Norway searches for treasured masterpieces
Police fielded a flood of tips but still had no motive Monday for the daring theft of "The Scream" and another Edvard Munch masterpiece by armed robbers who barged into a lightly guarded Oslo museum and ripped the paintings from the walls before the eyes of stunned visitors.
Police, who launched a nationwide hunt for the works, said there had been no word from the thieves, who were widely expected to demand a ransom. "The Scream," a 20th century icon of angst, is too well known for the thieves to try to sell, experts say.
"It can only be with horror that you react to something like this," Deputy Culture Minister Yngve Slettholm said by telephone, also expressing shock over what he said was Norway's first armed art theft. "We can only hope they end up back at the Munch Museum."
"The Scream" — there are four versions of Munch's best-known painting — depicts an anguished figure who appears to be screaming or shielding his ears from a scream.
Masked, armed thieves broke into the Oslo's Munch Museum on Sunday and, as visitors and staff watched in shock, tore "The Scream" and another famous Munch work, "Madonna," from the walls and loaded them into a car. The getaway car and the picture frames were found by police in Oslo hours later.
Oslo police inspector Iver Stensrud said all resources were being used to search for the national treasures, and that tips continued to pour in. "We are still working on new tips and are hoping for more," he said on the state radio network NRK.
Stensrud said the police were conducting a broad investigation, and have not focused on specific motives. Experts said the paintings were probably stolen for ransom or as a "trophy" robbery to impress other criminals, since it would be virtually impossible to sell them anywhere.
"The paintings could just as well be in Oslo as anywhere else," he said. Stensrud said police have been interrogating witnesses, but have no suspects.
"The world screams," said a headline in the major Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten over international reaction to the theft. Another newspaper, Oslo's Verdens Gang, said the Munch paintings were stolen on the same date, Aug. 22, as "Mona Lisa" was stolen in Paris in 1911.
The Munch works were not insured against theft, because it was impossible to set a price on them, said John Oeyaas, managing director of Oslo Forsikring, the city-owned company that insure the paintings against damage.
"It was a conscious decision," he told The Associated Press. "These are irreplaceable, and insurance would mean nothing. The total loss of an irreplaceable item cannot be compensated.... In principle, these are artworks that are not possible to sell."
However, he said the theft in from one of Norway's most visited museums raises the question of security.
"How can we make these artworks available to the public while still securing them?" he said.
It's the second time in a decade that a version of the painting had been stolen. Another version of "The Scream" was taken from Oslo's National Gallery in February 1994, but recovered three months later.
Slettholm, of the culture ministry, said it was impossible to totally protect artworks "unless we lock them in a mountain bunker" especially when thieves are willing to use force.
"It is food for thought that the spiral of violence has now reached the art world," he said. "This is a first for Norway, and we can only be glad that no one was hurt."
The stolen "Madonna" was painted in 1893-1894 and depicts an erotic Madonna with a blood-red halo in a dark, swirling aura. Munch later produced woodcut lithographs with a similar depiction.
Munch, a Norwegian painter and graphic artist who worked in Germany as well as his home country, developed an emotionally charged style that was of great importance in the birth of the 20th century Expressionist movement.
He painted "The Scream" in 1893, and together with "Madonna" it was a part of his "Frieze of Life" series, in which sickness, death, anxiety, and love are central themes. He died in 1944 at the age of 81.
Munch Museum site: http://www.munch.museum.no/en/artworks.htm