One of the art world's most recognisable images - Edvard Munch's The Scream - has fetched a record $120m at the Sotheby's auction in New York city, far exceeding pre-sales estimates of about $80m.

The 1895 pastel of a man holding his head and screaming under a streaked, blood-red sky has become a modern symbol for human anxiety, popularised in films and plastered on everything from mugs to Halloween masks. It is second in worldly fame to only the Mona Lisa.

It is one of four versions created by the Norwegian expressionist painter. Three are in Norwegian museums; the one at Sotheby's is the only one left in private hands. It is being sold by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father was a friend and patron of the artist.

Bidding started at around $50m for the work and elapsed over about 15 minutes until an unnamed bidder by telephone gave the final offer of $119,922,500, including commission. The sales room at Sotheby's erupted in applause and cheering.

The previous record for the most expensive work of art sold at auction had been held by Pablo Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which went for $106.5m at Christie's two years ago.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies