The Scream Essay
“I was walking along a path with two friends-the sun was setting-suddenly the sky turned blood red-I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence-there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city-my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety-and sensed an infinite scream passing through the nature” (Munch qtd. in Fineman).
These were the words of the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch who, after a stroll along a road in Oslo, was inspired by his visionary experience and managed to come up with the world-renowned painting, “The Scream.” Munch’s work became one of the most recognizable art forms in history and was regarded as one of the most contemporary cultural icons. The art became much popular because of the parodies and copies that were reproduced and have appeared on various objects such as t-shirts, key-chains, mouse pads, coffee mugs, and even became a favorite subject for tattoos (Fineman).
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The scream is well known as a lithograph that was finished in 1895. However, before the final version came to its final touches, the scream was the result of a process of evolutions. Edvard Munch painted four versions of The Scream, all of which were done in 1893. The earliest trace of the art form was done out of a single drawing on a cardboard, and the final form was done as an oil painting (Taylor 176). The Scream was a part of Munch’s most important expressionist painting series, “The Frieze of life” which he produced during 1890’s. According to researchers, the “Frieze of life” series centers on the artist’s usual theme such as love, darkness, death, and anxiety. The latter was evident in his most famous painting which is The Scream (Porter and Prince 116-117).
Aside from being the most popular painting of Edvard Munch, The Scream is also considered as the most famous painting of Norway. Yet, it is also said to be the most vulnerable among the many artworks in the world because The Scream has been the object of theft twice.
The Scream Theft 1994
During the onset of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, the National Art Museum in Oslo was robbed with its most important piece of art, The Scream. According to reports, two men climbed in a ladder and smashed one of the windows in the museum’s gallery and immediately stole the painting. The thieves used a wire cutter in order to remove the painting from the wall. Shortly after stealing the painting, the two men fled from the scene, leaving behind the cutters and the short ladder. The whole incident was caught by the museum’s security camera. During that time, Knut Berg, the director of the museum, pointed out that the exact value of the painting was impossible to be agreed upon, and it is also impossible to be sold (British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC]).
Based from documents, the alarm of the museum went off at around 6:30 local time. This alerted the security guard who immediately called upon the authorities. Police officers started searching for a Mercedes vehicle which was thought as the getaway vehicle of the thieves. Speculations were made that the thieves were somehow connected to the Olympic events, and the theft was pulled by campaigners as a publicity stunt. Due to the incident, the art museum received criticisms for the lack of security. It was found that Munch’s masterpiece was originally placed in the first floor of the museum which was said to be more secured. However, The Scream was then placed at the museum’s ground floor for exhibition and as a highlight for the Norwegian Culture Festival, which was done as a part of the Winter Olympics (BBC).
According to sources, a Norwegian anti-abortion group initially claimed that they were responsible for stealing the painting. However, authorities doubted their claim and continued the search for the missing masterpiece. In March 1994, the gallery received a ransom demand from the thieves. The perpetrators demanded for £700,000 equivalent to $1,000,000 in exchange of The Scream.
The board members of the gallery as well as the Norwegian government refused to pay because of the uncertainty of whether the demand was genuine or not. Two months after the gallery received the ransom demand and through the cooperation of Norwegian and British police, the painting was recovered unscathed. The painting was found in a hotel room located at a seaside town outside of Oslo. It was said that the area of recovery was the place where Edvard Munch created most of his masterpieces. By 1996, four men were arrested and convicted from stealing Edvard Munch’s most important version of “The Scream” (BBC).
The Scream Theft 2004
In August 22, 2004, another version of The Scream was stolen at the Edvard Munch Museum. The armed and masked thieves barged in at the said museum in broad daylight. Eventually, the robbers ripped The Scream and another of Munch’s painting, “The Madonna,” from the gallery’s wall right in front of the stunned visitors and museum staffs. The robbers hurriedly loaded the art pieces into a vehicle. Hours after the incident, Oslo police recovered the get away car as well the paintings’ frames (Associated Press [AP]).
According to reports, the museum was lightly guarded, and the police who immediately responded to the scene received tips from different people. The event led to a nationwide hunt for the missing artworks. Specific motives were unclear. However, experts claimed that the paintings must have been stolen for the thieves to demand ransom or to serve as a “trophy robbery” in order to impress other art thieves and criminals, yet no words were heard from the thieves (AP).
Just like The Scream heist in 1994, The Scream version in Edvard Munch Museum has no set price. According to John Oeyaas, the managing director of Oslo Forsikring, the company which insured the paintings against damage, the work of Munch was not insured against burglary. Apart from this, Oeyaas noted that the artworks were irreplaceable and were impossible to be sold. Thus, insurance of an artwork is nothing because the loss of an irreplaceable piece cannot be compensated by anything (AP).
In May 2006, three men were arrested and were found guilty of stealing the two paintings. A court in Norway pressed the verdict against the perpetrators. The thieves were identified as Peter Tharaldsen, who was the driver behind the heist, Bjoern Hoen, identified as the theft mastermind, and Stian Skjod, one of the gunmen who barged in the museum. Tharalsden and Hoen were both sentenced for nine years in prison while Skjold received five years of imprisonment. The other gunman died from drug overdose in that same year (“Scream Thieves”)
Three months after the arrest of the thieves, the Olso police retrieved Munch’s two paintings. Both the items had minor marks and tears but were totally in good condition. By September of 2006, The Scream, alongside The Madonna, was once again exhibited and was later on restored in the museum with the protection of heavy glass boxes (BBC).
It is evident that Edvard Munch’s the scream is one of the most important art pieces of today. Likewise, it serves as an inspiration for many artists and continuously pervades the popular culture (Porter and Prince 117). The Scream is one of the few artworks that truly expresses and discusses the meaning of anxiety in life. As such, this fragile piece of art has been so popular that after two times of becoming the object of theft, it was able to scream for escape and survived the ordeal to be seen by people who truly appreciate the depths of life.
Associated Press. “Munch’s famous ‘Scream,’ ‘Madonna’ stolen.” MSNBC. 23 August 2004. 08 October 2008 <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5787000/#storyContinued>.
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). “1994: Art thieves snatch scream.” BBC News. 12 February 2008. 08 October 2008 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/12/newsid_3591000/35919 94.stm>.
Fineman, Mia. “Existential Superstar: Another look at Edvard Munch’s The Scream.” Slate.
22 November 2005. 08 October 2008 <http://www.slate.com/id/2130897/>.
Porter, Darwin and Danforth Prince. Frommer’s Norway. Norway: Frommer’s, 2007.
Taylor, Mark. Tears. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1990.
“The Scream Thieves Jailed.” Art News Blog. 24 April 2007. 08 October 2008
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 22 March 2017
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