August 31, 2006

Munch’s stolen “The Scream” recovered by police

By Marianne Fronsdal

OSLO (Reuters) - "The Scream" and another stolen
masterpiece by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch were recovered by
police on Thursday, two years and nine days after gunmen seized
the paintings from an Oslo museum.

"'The Scream' and 'Madonna' are now in police possession,"
police chief Iver Stensrud told a news conference. "The damage
is much less than we could have feared."

He said the pictures were recovered on Thursday afternoon
in "a successful police operation" but dodged questions about
how it was done. He said no ransom had been paid "as of today."

"The Scream," Munch's most famous work, is an icon of
existential angst showing a terrified figure against a
blood-red sky. "Madonna" shows a bare-breasted woman with long
black hair.

Two masked gunmen walked into the Munch Museum in Oslo in
broad daylight in August 2004 and yanked the two works from the
walls in front of dozens of terrified tourists. They escaped in
a car driven by another man.

The paintings are both from 1893. Three men were convicted
in May of taking part in the theft and were sentenced to up to
eight years in jail.

Two of them were ordered to pay $122 million in damages.
Three other men were acquitted.

Police said no new arrests or charges had been made in
connection with the recovery of the paintings.

Experts at the Munch Museum had examined the pictures and
judged them authentic, a museum official said. A scientific
examination will also be carried out to verify the works.

A spokeswoman for a City of Oslo foundation that owns the
Munch Museum collection said she hoped the paintings could be
put back on display soon.


Munch painted two famous versions of "The Scream,"
including the one recovered on Thursday.

The other was stolen in 1994 from Oslo's National Gallery
by thieves who broke a window and climbed in with a ladder. It
was recovered after several months by police posing as buyers.

After the August 22, 2004, robbery, the Munch Museum
underwent a $6.4 million security upgrade.

Stensrud declined to answer questions about media reports
last week that a jailed bank robber, David Toska, had promised
information about the paintings if he won a reduced sentence.

Toska was sentenced to 19 years in prison for his part in a
2004 bank robbery in which a policeman was shot dead. Last week
an appeals court suspended a three-year sentence he had
received for another 2001 robbery and said it could reconsider
the case, which caused Norwegian media to speculate he had cut
a deal.

"Out of consideration of police working methods, it will be
hard to give details about how the operation was carried out,"
the police said in a statement.

In the foreground of "The Scream," on a bridge with
railings, is a human figure, hands to its head, eyes staring,
mouth agape. Further back are two men in top hats and a
landscape of fjord and hills against a red sky.

The painting is regarded as an evocative depiction of angst
in a world of man-made horrors such as genocide. It and
"Madonna" were bequeathed with a large body of Munch's work to
the City of Oslo in the painter's will.

Munch, who lived from 1863 to 1944, was a pioneer of modern