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Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) Madonna (Liebendes Weib) (Schiefler 33; Woll 39 - Ii/VII). A rare, extensively hand coloured impression of the first state of seven, signed and dated 1895 in pencil lower right, on firm, cream wove paper, with margins. 600 x 440mm (23 5/8 x 15 3/4in) (Image) 696 x 518mm (27 3/8 x 20 3/8in) (Sheet). Estimate: £500,000 - 700,000. Sold for £1,252,000. photo Bonhams.

LONDON.- An impression of Edvard Munch’s controversial work Madonna has sold for an amazing £1,252,000 at Bonhams – twice its lower estimate of £500,000. This makes it the most expensive print ever sold in the UK and the second most expensive print in the world. Another Munch image, Vampire II, sold in Oslo in 2007 at the height of the market for around £1,256,000.

Thought to be the first hand coloured version of this iconic image, the print shows the Madonna in yellow and white set against a halo of blue, green and red. The central figure is surrounded by a border containing spermatozoa and a foetus in a vivid blood red.

The model for the Madonna was Munch’s mistress, Dagny Juel, a femme fatale who, after numerous ill-fated affairs, was shot dead by a young lover in a Tblisi hotel aged just 33. Munch produced the image in seven different states between 1895 and 1902 and this impression is from the very first state. It is in excellent condition and had been in the same family for over 100 years.

As a printmaker, like Rembrandt, Munch realised the potential of editions to promote his artistic vision further afield. Through his radical and experimental approach, he made some of the most exciting aesthetic and technical advances in the history of printmaking. The present example of Madonna captures a crucial moment in his graphic oeuvre, a realisation of the chromatic potential of his printmaking activities.

The museum quality impression, which has never been seen in public, is signed and dated 1895, the year of its creation. The artist reworked his original concept several times between 1895 and 1902 and the image exists in seven distinct states. This print is from the very first state and is, arguably, the earliest hand-coloured impression. It shows the Madonna in yellow and white set against a halo of blue, green and red. The central figure is surrounded by a border containing spermatozoa and a foetus in a vivid blood red.

Although there are six oil paintings of Madonna - all predating the print - none of them have the border which made the lithographic image so challenging at the time. At least one of the paintings, however, was originally hung in a frame decorated with spermatozoa and embryos and these motifs Munch later included in the border of the lithograph.

"This is a hugely significant work and in beautiful condition," said Robert Kennan, Bonhams Head of Prints. "Munch returned to the Madonna time and again over a seven year period and it is fascinating to see this iconic image at its very earliest stage of its evolution as a print. It has been a real privilege selling such a wonderful image and it fully deserves to have achieved such a fantastic price.”

Munch was responsible for some of the most radical and experimental advances in printmaking and this impression dates from the time when he turned increasingly towards graphic art as a means of expression. Only a few hand-coloured impressions of Madonna are known to exist, most of which are now in public collections, and it is very rare for a print of such art historical importance to appear on the open market.