By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 1, 2006
LONDON, Aug. 31 -- "The Scream" and another masterpiece by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch were recovered by police in Norway on Thursday, two years after the paintings were ripped off a wall of an Oslo museum by two armed men in black ski masks.
"For two years and nine days we have been hunting systematically for these pictures and now we've found them," Iver Stensrud, who headed the police investigation, said at a news conference in Oslo. "It is a happy day for us in the police, for the owners of the paintings, and not least for the public, which will soon be able to once again admire the paintings."
"The Scream" is one of the most familiar images in Western art. Its open-mouthed, head-clutching howl of angst has been reproduced and parodied on every manner of poster, T-shirt and inflatable sculpture.
The other painting recovered Thursday was "Madonna," a portrait of a bare-breasted woman under a red halo, which Munch painted as part of a series with "The Scream" in 1893-94.
Art experts have speculated that the two paintings together are worth $100 million or more. Both are a source of enormous national pride in Norway.
Police did not say where or how the paintings were found, but Stensrud said the damage to the stolen works was "much less than what one could have expected."
Officials at the Munch Museum in Oslo had worried that the paintings had been damaged when the robbers, who threatened a guard at gunpoint in front of terrified tourists, removed them from the wall and carried them out the door like a couple of footballs.
Police said no reward or ransom for the works had been paid. They said no new arrests had been made and the two gunmen still have not been captured.
Three men were convicted in May on charges related to the robbery. Bjoern Hoen, 37, was sentenced to seven years for planning the heist; Petter Tharaldsen, 34, received eight years for driving the getaway car; and Petter Rosenvinge, 38, was sentenced to four years for supplying the Audi station wagon that the thieves used for their getaway. Three other suspects were acquitted.
Hoen and Tharaldsen were also ordered to pay about $122 million in compensation to the city of Oslo to cover the loss of the paintings. Stensrud said the convicted men had not assisted in the operation to recover the masterpieces.
Munch, who lived from 1863 to 1944, painted several versions of "The Scream," the inspiration for which he said came one night as he walked just after sunset.
"I felt a tinge of melancholy," he later recalled. "Suddenly the sky became a bloody red. . . . I stood there, trembling with fright. And I felt a loud, unending scream piercing nature."
The August 2004 theft was the second time in a decade that a version of Munch's most famous work had been stolen. In 1994, on the opening day of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, thieves broke into the National Gallery in Oslo and stole another rendering of the work.
The robbers were arrested three weeks later during a sting operation after they demanded a $1 million ransom.
Among stolen artworks still missing, the Associated Press reported, are three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a Manet and five Degas drawings taken from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 and a Cezanne stolen from England's Ashmolean Museum in 1999.