`Scream' theft a horror for museum

Armed thieves steal masterpiece painting in Oslo as visitors watch

August 23, 2004|By Jeffrey Fleishman | Jeffrey Fleishman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BERLIN - Armed thieves burst into a Norwegian museum yesterday, held a guard at gunpoint, yanked Edvard Munch's The Scream off the wall, whisked past stunned visitors and jumped into a stolen sedan that sped through the streets of Oslo.

Another of Munch's four versions of the masterpiece was stolen 10 years ago during the Winter Olympics in Norway.

Officials suggested that the theft, which unfolded about 11 a.m. at the Munch Museum, was most likely the work of an international ring that would seek a ransom because the painting is too famous to be sold on the open market or to a private collector.

Police said two armed thieves entered the museum while a third waited in a getaway car. One of the two men pointed a gun at a guard's head, and then they grabbed The Scream and Munch's Madonna off the walls. About 30 tourists, some of whom feared the incident was a terrorist attack, witnessed the theft, while some scattered through hallways. No alarms sounded when the paintings were stolen.

The Audi A-6 getaway car was found later on an Oslo street, along with shards of the paintings' discarded frames.

Authorities have sealed the country's borders, and government officials have called for overhauling security systems.

"We don't have all the details on the situation, but we are searching for the suspects in the air and on the land," police spokesman Kjell Moerk told Norwegian radio. One of the robbers spoke Norwegian. No shots were fired and no one was injured, according to government officials and witnesses.

Painted in 1893 as part of a series, The Scream heralded the 20th-century Expressionist movement. Munch depicted the anxiety, fear, love, death and illness that pervades the human psyche.

Another version of the painting was stolen in February 1994 as the Winter Olympics were beginning in Lillehammer. Robbers, who had climbed through a broken window in Oslo's National Gallery, demanded a $1 million ransom that was never paid. The painting was found nearly three months later.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Times special correspondent Bjorn Ove Holmberg contributed to this article from Norway.

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