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August 23, 2004

How Much for that Munch?

I trust you've all heard by now that versions of Edvard Munch's proto-Expressionist masterpieces "The Scream" and "Madonna" were stolen at gunpoint yesterday from the Munch Museum in Oslo by a trio of masked Norwegian banditos.

Since such works would prove a tad difficult to unload, police are expecting to receive a ransom demand, just as they did when another version of "The Scream" was stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo 10 years ago. Last time around the thieves demanded $1 million, to which the goverment refused to accede. That work was later recovered undamaged.

But on the topic of value in the here and now experts agree that you simply can't put a price tag on a masterpiece like "The Scream"—yet they seem quite ready to throw around some estimates...

[**Update: in the interest of easy perusal, I've tacked on conversions of foreign currencies into US$ by way of XE.com]

The Scotsman:

The Munch Museum said the two stolen paintings were among its most valuable of Munch's work—worth an estimated 10.5 million together [US$ 18.8m].

The Norway Post (the Doorway to Norway):

The two stolen paintings were among the museum's most valuable, worth around US$ 20 million, according to some experts.

The Telegraph:

The Scream, an icon of existentialist angst showing a waif-like figure against a blood-red sky, is believed to be worth up to 30 million [US$ 53.7m].

From Australian radio:

Two hooded men rushed into the museum just before midday and while one threatened guards and patrons with a pistol the other used wire cutters and ripped 'The Scream' and the Madonna from the wall before escaping in a getaway car. The paintings are worth at least $30 million [US$ 21.1m].

The Guardian:

A ransom demand is seen as the most likely development as experts said The Scream, valued at 33m-41m [US$ 59.1m-73.5m], could not be sold on the open market.

The Associated Press:

However, Knut Forsberg, manager of Blomqvist Fine Arts, Norway's oldest auction house since 1870, estimated the value of "The Scream" at between $59.6 million to $74.5 million.


A Norwegian art expert estimated The Scream stolen yesterday would fetch $60-$75 million at auction, and the Madonna $15 million.


The works may be worth as much as 500 million kroner ($74 million), the Aftenposten newspaper reported, citing Oslo gallery owner Ben Friga.


Auction houses and Norwegian curators estimated the value of this version at up to $74.5 million; Madonna was offered for sale at $12.7 million in 1999.

Gulf Daily News:

It was the second theft of a version of the work—valued at 65 million euros (BD30m) [US$ 79m] by Norwegian media—in 10 years.

New York Times:

"'The Scream' is in a league by itself," said Franck Giraud, a New York art dealer and a former head of modern art at Christie's. "It's almost impossible to value, but if it were for sale today, it could sell for over $100 million and become the most expensive painting in the world."

Gibbs and Vogel (the latter, by the way, reporting from St.-Tropez?) later make a point to remind us that a third-rate Picasso recently sold for $104.1 million. Hmmm... perspective.

Three Men and an Audi


The Times on some fears of damage and a bit of outrage:

Witnesses described the thieves as clumsy, even dropping the paintings on the way out. A silent alarm alerted the police.
Two hours later, less than a mile away, the police found shattered wooden frames and glass from the stolen works—a discovery that caused art experts to fear that the two treasures might already have been damaged.
"They are very fragile, I'm afraid," said the director of the Munch Museum, Gunnar Sorensen, said in an interview. He said "The Scream" in particular, painted in tempera on cardboard measuring about 33 inches by 25 inches, could be irreparably damaged if bent. The slightly larger "Madonna," another ghostly composition, was painted in oil on canvas and is more likely to survive intact without its protective frame, he said.
Mr. Lier said he was astounded that robbers a decade later could charge into the Munch Museum in broad daylight, with close to 80 people milling around in the galleries, and escape with two priceless works of art.
"Hasn't the city of Oslo learned anything about security in 10 years?" he asked. "I am shocked that once again it was so easy."

A French reporter who witnessed the deed, quoted in the Gulf Daily:

According to a witness, the works were on display at the museum with only minimal security precautions when the robbery took place, at around 11am. "What is surprising is that the two paintings were hung by simple cables in the first room, which is nearest to the exit," Francois Castang, a reporter for France Musiques radio station, who was in the museum at the time of the theft, said.

and by the Associated Press:

"What's strange is that in this museum, there weren't any means of protection for the paintings, no alarm bell," a French radio producer, Francois Castang, who saw the theft told France Inter radio.
"The paintings were simply attached by wire to the walls," he said. "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."

And Jorunn Christophersen of the Munch Museum responds to the critics (from CNN):

At a news conference, government officials expressed outrage that the paintings were not more carefully protected.
But Christophersen said an alarm did go off after the paintings were pulled off the wall. She also said the paintings were "stuck to the wall with solid screws." The robbers "used force in taking the Munch (paintings) away," she said.
Christophersen also said the robbers threatened the guards with guns as they headed to their getaway car.

**Update via AJ: Estimating the value of the works is probably beside the point as the BBC reports that:

Edvard Munch's iconic painting The Scream, which was stolen from an Oslo gallery on Sunday, was not insured against theft

This doesn't entirely surprise me as it isn't really possible to insure something of the sort for replacement purposes, but the BBC's reporting highlights one problem in light of early evidence of possible damage to the works (see above):

The Scream, which was taken by two armed men from the Munch Museum in the Norwegian capital, was insured against water and fire damage—but not theft.
Its insurers say this is because if a painting is damaged by smoke or flooding, the gallery needs money to repair it.
But if a painting is stolen, the gallery cannot simply go out and buy another copy with the insurance money.
"They are not replaceable so you can't buy The Scream on the street and put a copy up there," said John Oyaas, managing director of the museum's insurers, Oslo Forsikring.
"The focus is on other issues than insuring them. To a certain extent this is common practice because these items aren't replaceable."
But if a painting is stolen, damaged then recovered—and The Scream is very fragile—there will be no insurance money for repair.

An off-topic question, then: as the Munch Museum's coverage appears limited to Act-of-God damage, do any museums insure works against damage wrought by iconoclastic zealots and madmen? I'd wager the RijksMuseum might.

"How Much for that Munch?"
Posted by Dan at 01:32 AM



While attempting to come up with a price for "The Scream" might be tough, "Madonna" wasn't an easy, either. From the NYTimes article:

In 1999, Christie's tried but failed to sell a version of "Madonna." The auction house had estimated it would bring about $12 million.

So much for guesswork.

Play Ball!

Posted by: Zeke on August 23, 2004 at 08:49 AM

Great rundown! Now I don't have to do one! Still can't fathom why such a painting apparently wasn't insured.

Posted by: Fresh Paint on August 23, 2004 at 11:59 PM


If it had been insured, the museum would (after a humongous runaround) have recieved cash in place of the missing paintings. Ummm, I fail to see how that would have helped anything.

Play ball!

Posted by: Zeke on August 24, 2004 at 08:29 AM

I'd imagine premiums on policies for Oslo Munch's are probably on the rise.

Posted by: Dan on August 24, 2004 at 12:09 PM

Referenced in this post:

AM: Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' stolen—Philip Williams
Art Crimes
Art Crimes: The Night Watch
Artcyclopedia: Edvard Munch
BBC: Scream exposes art insurance gaps—Ian Youngs
Bloomberg: Munch's `The Scream,' `Madonna' Stolen at Oslo Museum—Bill Murray
CNN: Armed robbers steal 'The Scream'—Erlend Fernandez Stedding and Glenn van Zutphen
Edvard Munch: Madonna
Edvard Munch: The Scream
Guardian: Tourists see Munch's Scream stolen—Gwladys Fouche
Gulf Daily: Munch's 'Scream' is stolen
Irish Times: Thieves grab masterpiece in daring daytime raid (Reuters)
MSNBC: Munch's famous 'Scream,' 'Madonna' stolen (AP)
Munch Museum
New York Times: Munch's 'Scream' Is Stolen From a Crowded Museum in Oslo—Walter Gibbs and Carol Vogel
Norway Post: Famous paintings by Munch stolen from Oslo museum—Rolleiv Solholm
Scotsman: The Scream stolen from Oslo gallery—Nagie Brown
Telegraph: Masked gunmen snatch The Scream—Julian Isherwood
USAToday: Paintings pinched in Oslo—Gary Strauss
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