Another art theft kept under wraps

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Not only did Oslo art gallery Kaare Berntsen lose a valuable Munch lithograph last summer, it also was the victim of theft from a storage site of art and antiques valued at NOK 10 million. Police and the gallery kept that heist secret as well, but some of the art has been recovered.

Five persons have been charged in the theft from a storage site used by Galleri Kaare Berntsen that also was believed to have had a secret location. John Roger Lund, who has led the police investigation into the art thefts, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Thursday that very few people knew where Berntsen was storing valuable art works not displayed in its gallery, “so that’s a mystery, how they knew to break in.”

Newspaper Aftenposten reported that the theft occurred in early September, around two months after a signed lithograph by famed Norwegian artist Edvard Munch disappeared while the gallery while moving from its longtime location in downtown Oslo to an historic house in the city’s Vika district.Police notified Interpol of both thefts and got help from police in the Netherlands, who arrested two persons when they tried to sell some of the art from the September heist.

Both were extradited to Norway and police now have charged five persons in the case: One Norwegian, two Swedes, one Dane and one person from Portugal. Lund told Aftenposten that several of them have at least partially admitted involvement, and have a record of earlier offenses tied to narcotics and other crimes for profit.

Several art dealers in Oslo criticized the decisions by Berntsen and the police to keep both the June and September thefts secret, arguing that it could have made it easier for thieves to sell the art if dealers didn’t know it was stolen. One local auctioneer noted that while he understood the thefts were “bad publicity” for Berntsen, it was important to be open about art theft and alert other dealers.

The gallery’s leader has claimed he merely followed the advice of the police, while Lund claimed the police could investigate more effectively without publicity.