Norway hit by another Munch art theft

AP News
Posted: Nov 13, 2009 10:27 AM

Thieves stole a valuable artwork by Edvard Munch from an Oslo art dealer in the latest of a string of art heists targeting work by the famous Norwegian expressionist, police said Friday.

One or more thieves stole "Historien" _ or "History" _ from Nyborgs Kunst in downtown Oslo after smashing one of the dealership's windows with a rock, police spokeswoman Unni Groendal said.

The hand-colored lithograph, printed in 1914, is worth "in the millions" of kroner (hundreds of thousands of dollars), dealership owner Pascal Nyborg said. It was the only item stolen in the heist late Thursday.

The thieves were seen fleeing in a stolen van, which was later found abandoned near the British Embassy in Oslo's wealthy Frogner neighborhood, Groendal said.

Police had no suspects as of Friday afternoon. Groendal said evidence suggested the heist was carefully planned and orchestrated by a criminal organization.

Munch artworks are a popular target for art thieves in Norway.

In 2004, gunmen stole the Munch masterpieces "The Scream" and "Madonna" in a brazen midday raid on Oslo's Munch Museum. A year later, a group of criminals lifted three Munch artworks from a ritzy hotel an hour south of Oslo.

Another version of "The Scream" _ Munch painted several _ was taken from Norway's National Gallery in 1994 by two thieves who left behind a postcard that read, "Thanks for the poor security." One of the thieves, Paal Enger, had previously served a four-year sentence for the theft of Munch's "The Vampire" in 1988.

All the works were recovered, and the lax museum security that prompted Enger's postcard has been upgraded.

Morten Zondag, a Munch expert at the Oslo-based gallery and auction house Kaare Berntsen, said stolen Munch works can be used as anything from status symbols to currency in the criminal underground.

"It gives a lot of status to have a Munch on the wall," Zondag said. "The myth that there are these rich people who want a Munch collection in the cellar _ there's something in it. There might be someone who wants to have this Munch ("History"). If they steal it and put it on the wall of their bedroom for 20 years, then nobody will discover it."

Zondag estimated that the lithograph of "History" stolen Thursday, which is not the only one of its kind, was worth about 2 million kroner ($356,000). The print depicts an old man reading to a child.

Munch's emotionally charged painting style became a major influence in the birth of the 20th-century Expressionist movement.