- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

OSLO — Armed, black-masked thieves burst into a lightly guarded Oslo museum yesterday and snatched the Edvard Munch masterpiece “The Scream” and a second Munch painting from the walls as visitors watched in shock.

It was the second time in a decade that a version of the iconic “Scream” — which depicts an anguished, open-mouthed figure grabbing the sides of its head — had been stolen from an Oslo museum.

The thieves, who fled by car, also grabbed “Madonna,” another priceless painting that, along with “Scream,” is part of Munch’s “Frieze of Life” series painted in 1893 and 1894, depicting themes of sickness, death, anxiety and love.

The two or three thieves threatened an employee of the Munch Museum with a handgun before grabbing the paintings, easily snapping the wires that attached them to the wall, witnesses and the police said.

Many museum visitors panicked and thought they were being attacked by terrorists.

“He was wearing a black face mask and [using] something that looked like a gun to force a female security guard down on the floor,” one witness, Marketa Cajova, told the NTB news agency.

“What’s strange is that in this museum, there weren’t any means of protection for the paintings, no alarm bell,” said another witness, Francois Castang.

“The paintings were simply attached by wire to the walls,” the French radio producer said. “All you had to do is pull on the painting hard for the cord to break loose — which is what I saw one of the thieves doing.”

Police spokeswoman Hilde Walsoe said no one was injured during the robbery and that police had found the escape car — an Audi A6 — and fragments of the paintings’ frames.

Munch (pronounced “moongk”), a Norwegian painter and graphic artist who worked in Germany as well as his home country, developed an emotionally charged style of great significance in the birth of the 20th-century Expressionist movement. He died in 1944 at age 81.

“Madonna” depicts an eroticized virgin with a blood-red halo in a dark, swirling aura. Munch later produced woodcut lithographs of a similar subject.

Munch made four versions of “The Scream,” an image that has fascinated experts and the general public for decades.

The Munch Museum possessed two of the “Scream” pictures; a private collector owns a third version; and the fourth is on display at Oslo’s National Gallery. That version was stolen in February 1994 but recovered three months later.

“They were all painted by Munch, and they are all just as valuable,” Munch Museum spokeswoman Jorunn Christoffersen said.

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