Thieves snatch Munch lithograph

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Police in Oslo were searching Friday for thieves who smashed a window of a local gallery and made off with only one piece of art: Famed Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s lithograph of one of his murals that adorn the walls of a ceremonial hall at the University of Oslo.

The lithograph, called Historien (“The Story”), is considered “a central work” in Munch’s production and was valued at around NOK 2 million (USD 360,000). It was made between 1914 and 1916 and features an elderly man sitting near the sea, telling a story to a little boy.

Police believe its theft was ordered as a special heist, since no other paintings or lithographs on display at the gallery were taken.

Neighbors heard glass breaking around 10:30pm Thursday night at the gallery, Nyborg Kunst on Drammensveien in Oslo’s Frogner district. Police arrived quickly and witnesses said they saw the thieves flee in a white van. Police later found the van parked on a nearby street. It had been reported stolen.

Pascal Nyborg, who runs the gallery, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he had taken in the lithograph to sell it on behalf of a client. He thinks it will be hard to sell as a stolen piece of art because it’s “a unique, hand-coloured print.”

Nyborg also suspects the theft was a special, targeted heist. “It seems like they (the thieves) knew exactly what they wanted,” he told NRK.

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Works by Edvard Munch have commanded record high prices in recent years and several thefts. The most spectacular was the theft of his most famous painting, Skriket (“The Scream”), and a version of Madonna in a commando-style robbery at the Munch Museum in Oslo in August 2004. Both paintings were later recovered and several men were convicted of the theft, which was carried out to divert police attention from another spectacular robbery of a currency depot in Stavanger.

Another version of “The Scream” was stolen from Oslo’s National Gallery in 1994, but it, too, was later recovered.

Organizers of The Abel Prize, awarded amidst Munch’s works in the University of Oslo’s Aula every spring, have noted that Munch himself said that Historien “depicts a remote and apparently historical landscape, in which an old man from the fjords who has prospered through many long years of toil, now sits absorbed in a wealth of memories and relates them to a fascinated boy.”

The scene therefore depicts more than just a story or history, and “represents knowledge and wisdom in their entirety.”