"On the run with Munch"

Right. In that's-certainly-interesting news, armed robbers apparently stormed into the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway this morning, and made off with two of Edvard Munch's most famous works: "Madonna" and "The Scream".

Apropos for stylish art robbers, the two were dressed in black. They made their getaway in an Audi. Wine and cheese nibbles were not served.

Our favorite report was logged by Norway's "Aftposten", who interviewed a little old lady:

An 80-year-old woman visiting the museum saw two men with "revolvers" running through the building.

"Did I feel threatened? I am the calm type," the elderly lady laughed.

Edvard Munch (b. December 12, 1863, d. January 24, 1944) was a picturesquely tormented artist, along the lines of, say, Vincent Van Gogh. Why? Well, who knows, but a fanatically religious father and the deaths of both his mother and elder sister from tuberculosis before Munch turned 14 probably didn't help.

[Shown above: Detail, "Self-Portrait with a Burning Cigarette" (1895)
Oil on canvas
National Gallery, Oslo
Edvard Munch]

His morbid works, with their themes of delirium, sickness, love and death, influenced expressionist artists, but they weren't always, er, popular with the general public. Munch's 1892 exhibit so scandalized audiences in Berlin that the exhibit closed after only a week.

He seemed to have been a little confused about women, as well; he alternately depicted them as fragile, suffering creatures, or lurid, pitiless sexual predators. Or soulless vampires -- which, incidentally, is the title of one of his works: "The Vampire". Well.

Munch eventually suffered a nervous breakdown -- or, nervous "collapse" -- and was admitted to a Danish sanitorium. He died in 1944.

Miserable life, really. Excellent fodder for art historians, though, so that was certainly considerate of him. But moving on...

"The Scream" (1893) is one of Edvard Munch's most popular works; the silent scream is a significant motif; a symbol of modern man, for whom God is dead.

"Madonna" (1894) is a striking, but lesser-known work; it depicts woman both as a sacred and sexual object. Polish writer Stanislaw Przybyszewski described the painting as "the moment Life and Death shake hands".

Both paintings are worth millions, although this shouldn't be news to anyone. "The Scream" has actually been stolen before; thieves made off with it in 1994. The canvas was recovered undamaged, the men accused of trying to ransom the painting for USD$1 million.

Bit silly, really, since both canvases are worth far more -- in the USD$20 million range for "Madonna", with "The Scream" assessed at double that. On the open market.

"Aftposten" reports that museum officials are waiting for a ransom demand to be tendered, but let's consider two words, here, which make a bit more sense: private collector.

Naw, there couldn't possibly be anyone out there with a fetish for Munch and a piddling $60 million-plus lying around in a vault. Ya think? Either that, or someone's getting one hell of a Christmas present, come December...

Unless the canvases were spirited off on a bet. Perhaps by contemporary starving artists; in which case, morally reprehensible though it may be to laugh -- ha!

While Interpol gets down to sorting out the who-what-where, the rest of the what-if business shall be left as an exercise for writers with overactive imaginations...although, perhaps that's redundant.

[Shown/header image: Detail, "Madonna"(1894)
Oil on canvas, 90.5 x 70.5 cms
Formerly on view at the Munch Museum, Oslo. Now -- on the road. In an Audi.
Edvard Munch]

Find more art news/events in the August issue of "Arte Six".