Bald figure with hands over ears screams while standing on bridge, under a swirling sky.

365 Days of Art: February 12 – Art Theft Mars Opening Day of Olympics

The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893

I’ve never been very rah-rah Olympics, but this time around, choosing an actively anti-LGBT country to play host to the entire world has left me especially cold. In that biannual spirit, let’s take a look at an art scandal that shook up the Olympics:

February 12, 1994

Edvard Munch’s world-famous painting The Scream was stolen from the National Gallery in Norway, in an exhibit connected to the Olympics, whose opening ceremony was the same day. The painting had been moved down to a second-story gallery as part of the Olympic festivities, and the two thieves left a note that said “Thanks for the poor security.” (You’ve got to love a little acerbic wit in a thief. How very European.)

A security guard discovered the theft when he found their ladder leaning up against a museum wall, along with wire cutters on the floor.

The theft received heavy international coverage because of instant recognition of one of the world’s most famous paintings, the presence of journalists for the Olympics, and the fact that it all coincided with the opening ceremonies.

After the gallery refused to pay a ransom demand of $1 million in March, Norwegian police set up a sting operation with assistance from the British police and the Getty Museum; the painting was recovered undamaged on May 7, 1994.

The painting isn’t the only version that Munch (pronounced Moonk) created, but it’s the best-known.

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