This Week in History: ‘The Scream’ stolen 12 February, 1994

On the 12th of February 1994 millions celebrated the opening ceremony of the 1994 Winter Olympics; it also marked the theft of a world-renowned masterpiece of priceless value. That night, two men broke into Oslo’s National Gallery and stole what is widely considered as the most famous of four versions of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. The painting had been moved during the Olympic celebrations to a second-storey gallery, supposedly one with fewer security measures, prompting the thieves to leave a note reading “Thousand thanks for the bad security!”. The thieves’ fifty-second incursion into the gallery was captured on CCTV, but they could not be identified from the footage. The gallery was heavily criticised for their lax security, given the apparent ease with which the piece had been taken and that one of the world’s most valuable artworks had been left uninsured.

The museum’s director, Knut Berg, stated that the painting would be “impossible to sell” due to its high profile status, which likely explains why a few weeks later, the gallery received a ransom demand of one million US dollars. This prompted the Norwegian police to join with British forces to set up a sting operation in which the painting was recovered, thankfully undamaged, in May of the same year.

One of the convicted thieves was Paal Enger, a professional footballer who appeared to have found his vocation in art theft. He’d previously served time for stealing another of Munch’s pieces, ‘The Vampire’, whilst he was still playing at his football club Valerenga. It was after his release in 1994 that Enger was commissioned to steal ‘The Scream’; the unknown employer did not want the painting, only for it to be stolen. This employer turned out to be a member of the Tveita Gang, robbers whose activities had been under surveillance by the police, and who hoped the theft of ‘The Scream’ would draw this attention away. The tactic proved successful, as they proceeded to raid several banks in the weeks that followed.

Enger would escape from prison in 1999, only to be captured twelve days later attempting to flee to Copenhagen. whilst this may not exactly overshadow the Winter Olympics, it is something the Norwegian police aren’t likely to forget.

Image: WebMuseum

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