Armed Robbers Steal Munch's 'The Scream' in Oslo
By Alister Doyle and Inger Sethov  August 22, 2004

       OSLO (Reuters) - Armed robbers stole "The Scream" and another masterpiece by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch on Sunday in a bold daytime raid on an Oslo museum packed with terrified tourists.

The Scream - by Edvard Munch

Reuters Photo

Slideshow: Munch Paintings Stolen From Norway Museum



       Two masked robbers ran into the Munch Museum, threatened staff with a handgun and forced people to lie down before grabbing "The Scream," an icon of existentialist angst showing a waif-like figure against a blood-red sky, and "Madonna (news - web sites)."
       Some stunned tourists said they feared they were victims of a terror attack. The men yanked the masterpieces from the wall, walked out the front door and escaped in a black Audi car driven by a third man who had been waiting outside, police said.
Worth millions of dollars, the pictures are among Munch's best-known even though he produced several similar versions of both. "Madonna" shows a mysterious bare-breasted woman with flowing black hair.
       "We're following all possible leads ... but we don't know who did this," police detective chief inspector Kjell Pedersen told a news conference. One of the thieves spoke during the robbery -- in Norwegian.
       The paintings were later cut from their frames which were found smashed and scattered in an Oslo street. The car was separately found abandoned a few km (miles) away.
       Munch, a founder of modern expressionism who lived from 1863 to 1944, painted both works as part of a series about love, angst and death.
       Art experts speculated the thieves might demand a ransom because the works were too well known to be sold on the open market. But, Pedersen said: "We have heard nothing."
       Police cordoned off the museum, informed Interpol and alerted airports and border crossings. No shots were fired but a female guard was treated for shock.
       "I saw one of the men put a gun right behind a guard's head," said Richard Marcus, a 63-year-old Texas businessman visiting Oslo. "It took a long time for the police to come."
       "Some people were lying on the floor; I don't know if they were forced to or were just scared," said Anna Leiherr, a 22-year-old German student.
       Czech student Marketa Cajova said visitors feared the attackers were terrorists. "He had a black face mask," she told NRK radio.
       Another and perhaps better known version of "The Scream" was stolen from Norway's National Gallery in a break-in in February 1994 on the opening day of the Winter Olympics (
news - web sites) in Lillehammer.
       The 1893 version of "The Scream" stolen Sunday is a fragile tempera and pastel on board. "It's impossible to say which is the best work," said Gunnar Soerensen, head of the Munch Museum. A third, less well-known, version is in private hands.
In 1994, the government refused to pay a ransom for "The Scream" and police caught the thieves and recovered the picture a few months later. Those thieves, including one who stole another Munch painting in 1988, are now out of jail.
       One Norwegian art expert estimated "The Scream" stolen on Sunday would fetch $60-$75 million if legally sold at auction and "Madonna" $14.92 million.
       In the foreground of "The Scream," on a road with railings, is a human figure with hands to the head, eyes staring, mouth agape. Further back are two men in top hats and behind them a landscape of fjord and hills in wavy lines against a red sky.
       ($1=6.701 Norwegian Crown)
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