The Scream

Stealing The Scream: 2004 theft

A daring daylight heist and a return in exchange for candy?

At 11:20 am on 22 August 2004 two masked men entered Oslo’s Munch Museum armed with a .357 Magnum pistol. Startled museum visitors watched them walk up to The Scream (#4), pull the artwork off the wall, then flee grabbing another Munch painting, Madonna, on their way out of the building. A bystander outside the museum was able to photograph the thieves as they escaped to a waiting car. Witnesses to the crime stated that no alarms went off when the paintings were stolen and that they were only attached to the wall by wire. French radio producer Francois Castang, who was visiting the museum when the crime occurred, stated “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.”

The Scream being stolen in 2004

An innocent bystander snapped this photograph of the thieves making their get-away with The Scream and Madonna

On 8 April 2005 a suspect was arrested in connection with the theft. However, Oslo police indicated that they had not yet recovered the paintings. Despite police assurance that a recovery was likely, a rumour surfaced that the paintings had been burned by the suspect to hide evidence of the crime. More arrests followed and eventually six men faced charges related to the theft of the paintings, which still had not been located by authorities. In June 2005, Oslo’s city government posted an award of 2 million Norwegian krone for information leading to the recovery of the Scream. To ‘sweeten’ the deal, M&M, the candy maker, also announced that they would give 2 million M&M’s in exchange for the return of The Scream.

Despite this incentive, no one came forward.

Meanwhile the six suspects were charged with stealing The Scream and in May 2006 three of them were convicted of the crime and were handed prison sentences. Bjørn Hoen was sentenced to 7 years for planning the heist; Petter Tharaldsen was sentenced to 8 years for driving the get-away car; Petter Rosenvinge was sentenced to 4 years for supplying the car. Futhermore Hoen and Tharaldsen were ordered to pay the astronomical sum of 750 million kroner, the estimated value of the paintings, to the City of Oslo; a symbolic sentence. Meanwhile, The Scream was still nowhere to be found.

Finally, on 31 August 2006, The Scream and The Madonna were recovered. The police have not released details as to how and where the pieces were found, just that they were safe, they had remained in Norway after they were stolen, that no reward had been paid out, and the paintings were the originals. They also noted that the prior arrests and convictions did not result in the recovery of the paintings but that no new arrests had been made.

Munch's Madonna

A version of Munch’s Madonna was also stolen along with The Scream in 2004 and, thankfully, was recovered. (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

In 2008 the Scotland Yard detective involved in the recovery of the first stolen The Scream, revealed some interesting details about the recovery of the second stolen The Scream. He stated that a criminal already serving a 20-year sentence for armed robbery was able to trade information leading to the recovery of the artworks in exchange for a better life in prison and, perhaps, the M&M reward. Oslo police have no official comment on this scenario.

Despite going missing for two whole years, the paintings only suffered minor damage. The theft inspired a 10-month re-evaluation of the Museum’s security.

Update 2016

In April 2016 Norwegian police arrested two men in connection with the theft of a Munch lithographs from the Nyborgs Kunst art gallery in Oslo in 2009. The thieves stole the Munch works after smashing the gallery window with a rock. The lithograph did not depict The Scream, but this indicates that Munch is a popular target for thieves. Thankfully the artwork was recovered.

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This article is from the free online course:

Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime

University of Glasgow