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Scream! One of history\’s most infamous art heists was pulled off today

February 12, On This Day


The immensely popular composition dubbed The Scream, created by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, is one of the most iconic images of art, seen as “symbolizing the anxiety of the human condition”.

Munch created four versions of the painting and a lithograph stone, from which several prints survive. Here’s a handy ready reckoner of the quartet:

1) The first painted version in 1893, now at the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo (it carries a barely visible pencil inscription that says “Kan kun være malet af en gal Mand!” (“Could only have been painted by a madman”)

2) A pastel version was also made in 1893, which may have been a preliminary study. It is in the collection of the Munch Museum, also in Oslo.

3) The second pastel version, from 1895, made its way through many private hands and auctions.

4) The second painted version dates from 1910 (made at a time when the artist was revisiting his early works), and is also at the Munch Museum.


Most interestingly, The Scream has been the target of a number of thefts and theft attempts.

On February 12, 1994 — 28 years ago from today and the same day as the opening of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer (Norway) — two men reportedly broke into the National Gallery, Oslo, and stole its version of The Scream (the very first one). As part of Olympic festivities, the painting had been moved down to a second-story gallery.

The burglars even left behind a note reading: “Thanks for the poor security.”

The gallery refused to pay a ransom demand of US$1 million in March 1994.

Norwegian police set up a sting operation with assistance from the British police (SO10) and the Getty Museum and the painting was recovered undamaged on May 7 of the same year. Two years later, in January 1996, four men were convicted in connection with the theft, including Pål Enger, who had been convicted of stealing Munch’s Vampire in 1988! In a dramatic turn of events, they were released on appeal on legal grounds for a procedural error — the British agents involved in the sting operation had entered Norway under false identities.