There has been a right hullabaloo over last week’s sale of Edvard Munch's The Scream: that the best masterpieces are now beyond the pockets of most museums; that these pieces will now only be within the grasp of super zillionaires, to be hidden in a vault along with the diamonds and the bearer bonds, lost forever from an adoring and expectant audience.

Well, unfortunately this is the way of the world.

Firstly, while stock markets jitter, oil prices soar and fall like a kite in the wind and while gold holds sway, simply because hedge fund managers have no idea where else to place the billions, art is finally securing its place as a principal asset class in its own right.

Why shouldn't the Qataris pay $250m for a Cezanne and now $119m for the Munch (if indeed it is the Qataris)?

Cezanne is never going to paint another card player; Munch is never going to hear another scream. What better asset class to invest in when a substitute for oil could be discovered tomorrow and when the fool finally wakes up and realises that gold is just another metal with a shiny finish!

And what of the adoring public, deprived of their country's masterpieces? In a place where more people tune into The X Factor on one Saturday evening than probably visit all of our art galleries in a month, I doubt many of us will lose too much sleep if a Turner is sent to Russia or we lose a Constable to the Middle East.

Historically, great art has always been the preserve of the rich—it is not necessarily right but it is life. Most museums only show a fraction of their stock, so there is still plenty to see.

If the buyer of The Scream has paid even $50m too much, in a year’s time this will seem a drop in the ocean. A million a week to enjoy and  to own one of art's most enduring images—a  scream heard by Munch, translated so evocatively onto paper and silently heard by millions as they bade farewell to the old world and wondered what was to come—all this for a few days' oil revenue.

What, in any event, is too much for something almost (dare I use the word) unique?

So I say to the Russian/American/Qatari—well done and well done to the seller Mr Olsen—almost one hundred years of enjoyment and now almost one hundred million in the bank. That is what I call having your cake and eating it!

 

-Martin Betts