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The only version of Edvard Munch’s masterpiece The Scream still to be in private hands has gone on show in London for the first time.

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The pastel work featuring a haunted figure in front of a red backdrop is on display at Sotheby’s for a week before being sold at auction in New York on May 2, where it is expected to fetch £50.4 million or more.

The Scream in London is one of four versions created by Munch and was created in 1885.

It is the only version with a frame hand-painted by Munch which includes a poem explaining his inspiration for the piece.

It is also the only version in which one of the two figures in the background turns to look outward onto the cityscape.

The work is privately owned by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen whose father was a friend and patron of the artist.

The Munch Museum in Oslo holds two versions of The Scream and the third is displayed at The National Gallery of Norway.

Philip Hook, senior director at Sotheby’s impressionist and modern art department, said: “This is the only one of the series of four pictures that has this poem by Munch inscribed on the front and it explains a little bit about how the painting came to be executed.

“It tells us that the scream people might have thought was coming from the figure’s mouth is not actually him screaming, it’s the scream of nature he is hearing through his ears. It’s such a powerful image of anxiety and man’s alienation.

“We are confident that we will be able to show this icon to as many people as possible. This is the first time this picture has ever been on view in the United Kingdom and it hasn’t been on show anywhere since 1979 so it’s a very special thing for Sotheby’s to be able to show people.”

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