OSLO, Norway -- Police launched a nationwide investigation Monday for armed robbers who barged into a lightly guarded Oslo museum and ripped the Edvard Munch masterpiece "The Scream" and another painting from the walls, as stunned visitors watched in disbelief.
The paintings were stolen from Oslo's Munch Museum on Sunday by masked, armed thieves who pulled them from the walls as visitors and staff watched in shock. Police said there had been no word from the thieves, who were widely expected to demand a ransom.
"It can only be with horror that you react to something like this," Deputy Culture Minister Yngve Slettholm said by telephone, also expressing shock over what he said was Norway's first armed art theft. "We can only hope they end up back at the Munch Museum."
"The Scream" - there are four versions of Munch's best-known painting - depicts an anguished figure appearing to be listening to a scream while holding his hands to his head. It was loaded into a waiting car along with another famous Munch work, "Madonna." The getaway car and the picture frames were found by police in Oslo hours after the robbery.
Oslo police inspector Iver Stensrud said all resources were being used to search for the national treasures, and that tips continued to pour in. "We are still working on new tips and are hoping for more," he said on the state radio network NRK.
Stensrud said the police were conducting a broad investigation, and have not focused on specific motives. Experts said the paintings were probably stolen for ransom or as a "trophy" robbery to impress other criminals, since it would be virtually impossible to sell them anywhere because they are so well known.
'The paintings could just as well be in Oslo as anywhere else," he said. Stensrud said police have been interrogating witnesses, but have no suspects.
"The world screams," said a headline in the major Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten over international reaction to the theft. Another newspaper, Oslo's Verdens Gang, said the Munch paintings were stolen on the same date, Aug. 22, as "Mona Lisa" was stolen in Paris in 1911.
The Munch works were not insured against theft, because it was impossible to set a price on them, said John Oeyaas, managing director of Oslo Forsikring, the city-owned company that insure the paintings against damage.
"It was a conscious decision," he told The Associated Press. "These are irreplaceable, and insurance would mean nothing. The total loss of an irreplaceable item cannot be compensated.... In principle, these are artworks that are not possible to sell."
However, he said the theft in from one of Norway's most visited museums raises the question of security.
"How can we make these artworks available to the public while still securing them?" he said.
It's the second time in a decade that a version of the painting had been stolen. Another version of "The Scream" was taken from Oslo's National Gallery in February 1994, but recovered three months later.
Slettholm, of the culture ministry, said it was impossible to totally protect artworks "unless we lock them in a mountain bunker" especially when thieves are willing to use force.
"It is food for thought that the spiral of violence has now reached the art world," he said. "This is a first for Norway, and we can only be glad that no one was hurt."
The stolen "Madonna" was painted in 1893-1894, and depicts an erotic Madonna with a blood-red halo in a dark, swirling aura. Munch later produced woodcut lithographs with a similar depiction.
Munch, a Norwegian painter and graphic artist who worked in Germany as well as his home country, developed an emotionally charged style that was of great importance in the birth of the 20th century Expressionist movement.
He painted "The Scream" in 1893, and together with "Madonna" it was a part of his "Frieze of Life" series, in which sickness, death, anxiety, and love are central themes. He died in 1944 at the age of 81.
Munch Museum site: http://www.munch.museum.no/en/artworks.htm
Munch masterpieces join a daunting list of stolen paintings
Thieves are increasingly targeting famous paintings, a trend illustrated by Sunday's bold raid on the Munch Museum in Norway. Art theft experts say Edvard Munch's "The Scream" and "Madonna" are, like most stolen works, unlikely to be recovered.
Some of the most recent and highly publicized thefts involving unrecovered works:
In Rome, 10 paintings worth $5 million belonging to a collection housed in a historic hospital are stolen from an unguarded restoration room. Among those lost: "The Sacra Famiglia" by the 16th century artist Parmigianino; "Flagellazione" by Caravaggio mentor Cavalier D'Arpino, and "Testa di Vecchio" by Lanfranco, a master of the High Baroque.
Pablo Picasso's "Nature Morte a la Charlotte," worth $3 million, is reported missing from a restoration studio in Paris' Pompidou Center.
Dec. 16, 2003:
"Special 21 (Palo Duro Canyon)" by Georgia O'Keeffe is stolen from the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe. Valued in excess of $500,000.
Aug. 27, 2003:
In Scotland, thieves posing as tourists overpower a lone guide in Drumlanrig Castle and steal Leonardo da Vinci's "Madonna with the Yarnwinder," valued between $40 million and $80 million.
July 20, 2002:
In Paraguay, thieves tunnel into National Fine Arts Museum and steal a dozen paintings, including a self-portrait by Tintoretto, "The Virgin Mary and Jesus" by Esteban Murillo, "Landscape" by Gustave Coubert and "Woman's Head" by Adolphe Piot. Police say the 80-foot tunnel took two months to dig.
July 17, 2001:
In Germany, an Andy Warhol portrait of Lenin disappears from a Cologne warehouse. It had just been sold to a Munich gallery owner for around $700,000.
Dec. 22, 2000:
In Stockholm, three armed and hooded men snatch two Renoirs and a Rembrandt from Sweden's National Museum and then escape by speedboat. Police later recover Renoir's "Conversation" by accident during a drug raid, but a Rembrandt self-portrait and Renoir's "Young Parisian" remain missing.
March 18, 1990:
In Boston, two men disguised as police officers pull off what remains the biggest art heist in history - handcuffing security guards inside the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, then making off with an estimated $300 million in paintings. Among them were three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a Manet and five by Degas.
On the Net:
Art Loss Register, http://www.artloss.com/Default.asp
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation list, http://www.fbi.gov/hq/cid/arttheft/noticerecov.htm
Axa Art insurance, http://www.axa-nordstern-art.co.uk/index.html