January 16, 2006

Munch’s “The Scream” apparently undamaged in theft

OSLO (Reuters) - Edvard Munch's masterpiece "The Scream"
was apparently undamaged in a 2004 robbery but the less
well-known "Madonna" suffered a minor tear, a man accused in
connection with the theft said on Monday.

"The paintings weren't wrecked in the robbery," Thomas
Nataas told Reuters of the two works stolen by gunmen from
Oslo's Munch Museum in August 2004 and then stashed for several
weeks in a bus owned by Nataas on farmland north of Oslo.

"I saw there was what looked like an insignificant tear (in
"Madonna")," he said. "The other ("The Scream") looked in okay
condition." He said he had not inspected the works closely
after stumbling across them.

Art experts had feared the works, painted by Munch, a
Norwegian, in 1893, were badly damaged when the thieves ripped
off the wooden frames and threw them out of the windows of a
getaway car, apparently fearing the frames might be embedded
with a satellite tracking device.

Nataas, 35, is due to go on trial next month charged with
handling stolen goods. Five other men are accused of planning
the theft and stealing the paintings, which have not been

"I am innocent," Nataas said, adding he only found the
paintings in plastic bags after noticing that someone had
broken into the bus.

Separately, he told Norway's TV2 independent television
channel that he had been scared to report his find to the
police, fearing that criminals might somehow take revenge on
him. He said he knew one of the other accused men.

Nataas said police had bungled an attempt to seize the
paintings when the robbers moved them to a new hiding place on
September 24, 2004.

He said police had been tapping his phone when one of the
accused called Nataas several days in advance to say they would
collect the paintings. Police charge that Nataas wrapped up the
paintings ready for collection.

"I don't know why the police didn't come and pick up the
paintings. They had full control," he said.

"The Scream" portrays a terrified waif-like figure under a
blood-red sky. It has become an icon of angst after a century
scarred by horrors including the atom bomb and the Holocaust.

"Madonna" shows a mysterious bare-breasted woman with long
flowing black hair.