Buyer of Edvard Munch’s $120 Million ‘Scream’ Revealed

Congratulations, Leon Black -- you're now the owner of the priciest artwork ever sold at auction.

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

Who would purchase an iconic and unsettling piece of artwork–at the most expensive price imaginable?  For more than two months, the purchaser of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” in May for $119,922,500 was a mystery.

It isn’t anymore: according to The Wall Street JournalNew York billionaire and Apollo Global Management chairman Leon Black was the bidder who snapped up the famous piece, paying the highest price for any artwork ever sold at auction. People familiar with Black, it seems, couldn’t help but divulge about the historic purchase. For a billionaire with a Forbes estimated net worth of $3.4 billion, “Scream” is an addition to his robust assortment of priceless artwork. And he already has familiarity with ringing up a “record” buy, per the Journal:

His $750 million collection already includes drawings by Vincent van Gogh and Raphael, watercolors by J.M.W. Turner, cubist paintings by Pablo Picasso and ancient Chinese bronzes. Three years ago, Mr. Black paid Christie’s $47.6 million for a Raphael chalk drawing, “Head of a Muse,” a record auction price at the time for a work on paper.

When the news first broke about the sale of the 1895 pastel “Scream” for nearly $120 million, all that most people knew about the sale was an amazing-sounding bidding war between two unidentified telephone buyers that went on for twelve minutes before ending in Black’s favor, as Sotheby’s, the auction house that held the sale, noted in its release.

Immediately after the sale the big question, “was it worth it?”, was a fun what-if game played by everyone who could imagine shelling out $120 million for a priceless piece of artwork–or a thousand other things instead.

As to the reveal of Leon Black as the billionaire buyer, the Journal reporter who broke the news, Kelly Crow, remarked about how the mystery was solved to WSJ Live: “It takes a little while for collectors to start whispering to their friends, ‘Hey I bought the most expensive piece of art ever.'” Crow, for her part, had mused to PBS after the purchase in May that a $120 million painting would be a better way to spend your money than a similarly priced yacht.

(More: Crimes of the Century: The Theft of “The Scream,” 2006)