Munch Masterpieces Recovered after 2004 Theft

Sept. 1, 2006
Famed paintings stolen from Munch Museum are damaged, but repairable

The Edvard Munch masterpieces "The Scream" and "Madonna" suffered minor damage after they were stolen by masked gunmen in August 2004, but can be repaired, Munch Museum officials said Friday.

Oslo police meanwhile remained tightlipped over how they recovered the national treasures on Thursday, as speculation soared.

"The condition is much better than we might have expected," said museum director Ingebjoerg Ydstie. She said "The Scream" had been banged hard in one corner, and that "Madonna" had a roughly 2.5 centimeter (one inch) hole and some loose paint.

"But our skilled conservators will be able to repair the damage," she said.

"The Scream" is probably the best known work in Munch's emotionally charged style, which was a major influence in the birth of the Expressionist movement. In his four versions of the painting, a waif-like figure is apparently screaming or hearing a scream. The image has become a modern icon of human anxiety.

The paintings were stolen in a brazen daylight raid on the Oslo city-owned Munch Museum on Aug. 22, 2004. Police announced their recovery on Thursday, but refused to say how they found the paintings.

Almost two weeks ago, the Norwegian news media began reporting that David Toska, seen as the mastermind of one of Norway's most brutal bank robberies, was secretly negotiating with police for the return of the paintings.

The reports, citing anonymous sources, said he wanted milder terms in a 21-year prison sentence. Police refused comment.

During the trial of three suspects in the Munch theft, prosecutors also suggested that the paintings were stolen to draw police focus away from solving the commando-style bank robbery four months earlier that left a police officer dead in the western city of Stavanger.

Thirteen men were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms in the robbery of Norsk Kontantsevice, or NOKAS. Their appeal begins in Stavanger on Monday.

Leif A. Lier, now a private investigator, headed a police investigation that led to the recovery of another version of "The Scream" that was stolen in 1994.

"When the paintings were recovered four days before the court opens the NOKAS appeal, it is my opinion that the police got a tip (related to that)," he was quoted as telling Norway's largest newspaper, Verdens Gang.

Iver Stensrud, head of the police effort to recover the paintings, would only say the investigation was built "stone by stone."

The City of Oslo offered a 2 million kroner (US$317,000; euro250,000) reward for the return of the paintings. Stensrud said no reward had been paid.

In May, three men, Petter Tharaldsen, 34, Bjoern Hoen, 37, and Petter Rosenvinge, 38, were convicted of minor roles in the art theft and sentenced to prison terms ranging from four to eight years.

Tharaldsen and Hoen were also ordered to pay 750 million kroner (US$120 million; euro94 million) in compensation to the City of Oslo.

Government prosecutor Terje Nyboe said that demand would be dropped, since the paintings were recovered, but that the two could be held accountable for restoration costs.

The works have been returned to the Munch Museum, although it was not clear when they would again be on display after restoration.

"The Scream" and "Madonna" were part of Munch's "Frieze of Life" series, in which sickness, death, anxiety and love are central themes. He died in 1944 at the age of 80.


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