Gun-toting thieves made off with a version of Edvard Munch's The Scream, and with his less well-known but also important Madonna, from the Munch Museum in Oslo over the weekend. Both paintings can be viewed at the Museum's site, here, though they are not currently viewable at the Museum itself. The particular "Scream" that was taken is the lesser-known, "eyeless" version; its better known artistic twin, which was itself stolen and recovered in 1994, remains in Norway's National Gallery, also in Oslo. (Oddly enough, every online version of this story that includes an illustration seems to be using the National Gallery version, not the version that is actually missing.)
The getaway car and portions of the paintings' frames have been recovered, and the International Herald Tribune reports that a number of the usual suspects have already been eliminated:
"There's no market and there's no secret Dr. No or Mr. Big or anybody like that out in the Venezuelan jungle, or Captain Nemo aboard the Nautilus," said Charles Hill, a former British Scotland Yard detective who helped recover "The Scream" in 1994.
"These guys steal these things as trophies and then they don't know what to do with them," he told Norway's NRK radio.
The man behind the 1994 theft, now out of jail, denied any involvement. "Weapons are not my style. I have always used the methods of a gentleman," Paal Enger told the Verdens Gang daily.
The paintings were not insured against theft. Immediate criticism has landed on the Museum's seemingly ineffectual security measures. The IHT report, however, offers some justification from museum representatives:
Lise Mjoes, the director of Oslo art collections, defended security at the museum: "We can't see that any mistakes were made. The guilty ones here were those who carried out the robbery."
Visitors are not routinely searched by unarmed guards.
"The safety of employees and the public is top priority," Mjoes said, adding it could be a "catastrophe" if gunmen were trapped inside if the doors had shut automatically, for instance, when an alarm went off.
The deputy culture minister, Yngve Slettholm, said it was impossible to totally protect artworks "unless we lock them in a mountain bunker."
"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."
Lax security: It isn't a bug, it's a feature.
[Craving more lost or strayed art? Follow the links in this earlier post.]