Armed Robbers Steal Munch's 'The Scream' in Oslo
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By Alister Doyle
OSLO (Reuters) - Armed robbers stole a version of "The Scream" and another masterpiece by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch Sunday in a bold daytime raid on an Oslo museum packed with terrified tourists.
Two masked robbers ran into the Munch Museum, threatened staff with a gun and forced people to lie down before taking "The Scream," an icon of existentialist angst showing a waif-like figure against a blood-red sky, and "Madonna (news - web sites)."
They escaped in a dark-colored car, perhaps an Audi, driven by a third man.
The pictures, worth millions of dollars and among Munch's best-known works, were later cut from their frames which were found in another part of the city. "Madonna" shows a mysterious bare-breasted woman with flowing black hair.
"A female employee of the museum was threatened with a handgun and forced to take down two pictures," Hilde Walsoe, chief inspector at Oslo police station, said. "They took two paintings, 'The Scream' and 'Madonna."'
Police cordoned off the area, informed Interpol and alerted airports and border crossings in the hunt to track down the thieves. Two helicopters hovered around the area in search of clues to the getaway.
No shots were fired but a female guard was treated for shock after she was threatened with a gun.
Art experts said Munch, who lived from 1863 to 1944, produced several versions of "The Scream" and "Madonna." The stolen 1893 version of "The Scream" is a fragile tempera and pastel on board.
Both paintings are so well known that they are almost impossible to sell, art experts say.
GUN TO HEAD
"I saw one of the men put a gun right behind a guard's head," said Richard Marcus, a 63-year-old Texas businessman visiting Oslo. "What was almost the most shocking thing was seeing a gun being used here in Oslo."
"It took a long time for the police to come," he said.
"Some people were lying on the floor; I don't know if they were forced to or were just scared," said Anna Leiherr, a 22-year-old German tourist. "I saw a man running through the gallery with a mask."
Another and perhaps better known version of "The Scream" was stolen from Norway's National Gallery in a break-in on February 1994, on the opening day of the Winter Olympics (news - web sites) in Lillehammer.
"It's impossible to say which is the best," said Gunnar Soerensen, head of the Munch Museum. "They are both very central pictures in Munch's artistic output." He said that another, less known, version of "The Scream" was in private hands.
In 1994, a ransom was refused by the government for "The Scream" but the picture was retrieved several months later after a sting operation by Norwegian police. That painting was hanging on the wall at the gallery Sunday.
Munch, a founder of modern expressionism, painted "The Scream" and "Madonna" as part of a series about love, angst and death.
In the foreground of "The Scream," on a road with railings, is a figure with hands to the head, eyes staring, mouth agape. Further back are two men in top hats and behind them a landscape of fjord and hills in wavy lines against a blood red sky.
The second time they were stolen and NO security what so ever in the building...what the heck are they thinking?