Today the Scream and Madonna have been recovered by Oslo police.

Two anxious years went by. We heard of the paintings being stuffed into bin bags and hidden in a bus – and so on. Time passed.
There wasn’t much hope they would be in good shape if they were recovered. However, recovered they were. The Scream (which is the more vulnerable because it is painted on board) seems in pretty good shape. No major damage, only one corner curled from what is probably an impact injury.

The lovely Madonna has suffered worse. No photographs have yet been released of either painting but Madonna was painted on canvas, and she has suffered two cuts and a hole said to be the size of a 20 krone piece (a medium sized coin). According to information released by the Munch Museum, the stretcher has also been broken or damaged.

The pictures were found in Norway, not far from the scene of the theft. Apparently they were in the district of Østvold, possibly near the coastal town of Moss where Munch once owned a property on Jeløya. Indeed, one of his most important late models was Ingeborg Kaurin who he nicknamed ‘Mosspiken’ ‘The Girl from Moss.’ She is the subject of many glorious and colourful nudes of his late period (see pp. 295-6 in Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream).

It will obviously take some time for the full story to be revealed, but meanwhile the recovery is an enormous relief in view of months of media speculation which roughly followed three lines of speculation. One: the standard James Bond fantasy that they had been sold to some fabulous modern-day Kubla Khan and squirreled away in his Xanadu for his private delectation. Two: that they were being used as collateral against colossal drug deals. Three: that they were such hot property that the thieves had no alternative but to destroy them.

The implication in the press at present is that the information leading to the recovery of the paintings was exchanged for a lighter sentence for one of the men already imprisoned. This has not yet been confirmed by the police who are adamant that no ransom was paid.
Soon we’ll know more, meantime we give thanks.

There follow some of the back stories of the theft and events associated with the book since publication.

2 May 2006 A day of mixed fortunes. Three Scream thieves convicted, three acquitted, and Sue Prideaux’s biography of Munch shortlisted for Britain’s oldest literary award, The James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Three men involved in the theft of The Scream and Madonna from the Munch Museum received long jail sentences today and were ordered to pay the combined insurance value of the paintings NOK 750 million (about £67 million or $121 million) in compensation to the city of Oslo. If the paintings are recovered the demand for repayment will be withdrawn and any convict assisting in the recovery will have his sentence shortened.

Scream and Madonna were taken on August 22 2004 from the Munch Museum, Oslo in a violent robbery in which a .357 Magnum handgun was used. Closed circuit television showed the masked robbers leaving the Museum and stuffing the two paintings into the boot of a black Audi station wagon.
Petter Tharaldsen, described as a career criminal, was sentenced to eight years for driving the getaway car. Bjørn Hoen was sentenced to seven years; each was ordered to pay half the enormous fine. Prosecutors described Mr Hoen as the organiser of the operation who, police believe, provided the getaway car and the weapons. Tapes were played in court of Mr Hoen and another defendant, Petter Rosenvinge, discussing how to sell the paintings. Rosenvinge was jailed for four years for selling the Audi to Hoen.

Three others were acquitted for lack of evidence: Stian Skjold who admitted to having handled the paintings, Morten Hugo Johansen who previously had owned the car, and Thomas Nataas, a drag racer at whose farm they had been stored for a while in black bin bags in a bus. The long sentences and enormous fine have, sadly, not yet proved sufficient incentive to reveal the whereabouts of the paintings. However, two defendants facing charges for other serious crimes have been in touch with a Norwegian newspaper claiming to know the whereabouts of the paintings. The inference is that they might reveal the information in exchange for a reduction in their sentences. The city of Oslo has offered a substantial reward for assistance leading to the recovery of the stolen paintings.

Coincidentally on the same day the shortlist was announced for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the oldest and possibly the most distinguished literary prize in Britain awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh, the only awards of their kind to be presented by a university. Edvard Munch: Behind The Scream was one of the shortlist of six in the biography section. The author is very pleased indeed.

Trial begins of thieves who stole ‘The Scream’ and Madonna’.

One and a half years after the theft of ‘The Scream’ and ‘Madonna’ from the Munch Museum, six men are coming to trial in Oslo. The pictures are still missing and feared damaged, if not destroyed. The video camera that filmed the getaway showed ‘Madonna’ being dropped twice and bits of the frames being roughly torn off before the paintings were bundled into the boot of a black Audi. The car was discovered later that day, its interior sprayed with a fire extinguisher to destroy any forensic evidence. The paintings were apparently first hidden on a bus parked on a piece of farmland north of Oslo. The owner said in an interview that when he had seen the pictures, ‘Madonna’ had a small rip, while ‘The Scream’ was undamaged. Since the robbery, rumours have been rife. Some have been remarkably creative, the best a tribute to the Norwegian sense of humour and sadly too libellous to be repeated here. However, the two most constantly reiterated concern a link between theft of the two paintings and the bullion robbery of Norway’s central bank, Nokas, some four months earlier, in which the thieves escaped with $8.5 million and a policeman was shot dead. There has also been speculation on a connection with Kosovar Albanian criminal gangs. No doubt, all will become less opaque as the trial proceeds.

For news of the trial as it progresses, see below

Day One of the trial saw the defense attorneys applying for more time to exaine the evidence which includes about 10,000 telephone calls tracked by the prosecutors. The trail was postponed by two days. Lead prosecutor Terje Nyboe indicated that the State might consider shorter prison terms for any defendant prepared to reveal the wherabouts of the paintings.

Thursday 16 Feb saw the trial resume with defendant Stian Skold , 30, testifying that he delivered the two stolen paintings to a man in at Skrimstad farm in Kjeller, northeast of Oslo. They were wrapped up in garbage bags. Skold said he had received a call in September 2004, “…from a person who asked me to contact Thomas Nataas because Nataas had something in his bus…I opened the back door of the bus and took out the two pictures which were lying there, packed in a garbage bag.” He met up with another man in a car and put the pictures in the boot of the other car. He claimed never to have seen the other man before. The apparently unknown man then disappeared with the paintings. They have not been seen again since. Prosecutors believe Skjold was one of the two men inside the Munch Museum who took the paintings. Skjold denies this, saying he has an alibi for that day.

Police Inspector Johnny Brenna said the police believe they have discovered a new link betweent the theft of the paintings and the raid on NOKAS, the Norwegian bullion store in Stavanger. A policeman was shot dead in the bullion robbery. The technical evidence to support this claim has not yet been offered.

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