An 1895 version of the painting "The Scream" by Edvard Munch recently sold for a record-shattering $120 million at a Sotheby's auction in New York. The seller of the piece, a Norwegian businessman, will undoubtedly be paying a hefty tax on the sale.

But the artist himself apparently tangled with the tax authorities.

A Wall Street Journal blog post by Laura Saunders quoted a letter from Munch describing his own tax problems:

This tax problem has made a bookkeeper of me too. I'm really not supposed to paint, I guess. Instead, I'm supposed to sit here and scribble figures in a book. If the figures don't balance, I'll be put in prison. I don't care about money. All I want to do with the limited time I have left is to use it to paint a few pictures in peace and quiet. By now, I've learned a good deal about painting and ought to be able to contribute my best. The country might benefit from giving me time to paint. But does anyone care?

Munch's biographer Sue Prideaux noted in Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream (Yale University Press, 2005) that Munch would often pen "hyperbolic rants" to the Norwegian tax authorities, accusing them of "wanting to tax the skin on his brain, the hand of the artist, the voice of the tenor, and the thoughts of the philosopher."

Saunders speculates that Munch's Norwegian taxes might have been the inspiration for his iconic painting. Many Americans might see a similar image each year when they look in the mirror around April 15.

"The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing." - Jean Baptiste Colbert

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