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Munch's 'Scream' Sets Art Auction Record

Edvard Munch's "The Scream" auctioned at Sotheby's, New York, May 2, 2012.

One of the world's most famous paintings, Edvard Munch's "The Scream," sold for nearly $120 million on Wednesday, setting a record for the most expensive artwork sold at auction.

Sotheby's auction house in New York opened bidding for Munch's iconic 1895 painting - one of the most recognizable works of art in the world - at $40 million.

Within 15 minutes, bidding climbed to nearly $120 million.

The purchaser was not identified.

The seller, Norwegian businessman Peter Olsen, expressed hope that publicity surrounding the auction will increase awareness about Munch's work and about the message Olsen says the painting conveys.

"'The Scream' is about anxiety, approaching and anticipating death," he said. "Munch's hand-painted poem on the frame ends with the words the great scream in nature. It is as if Munch has had a premonition of what man was going to inflict on nature."

Officials say proceeds from the sale will go toward building a museum in Norway.

Before now, the most expensive painting sold at auction was Pablo Picasso's 1932 work called "Nude, Green, Leave and Bust," which was sold by Christie's auction house for $106.5 million in 2010.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.