x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Mischief follows The Scream

Instant Expert: Float through any social event with M's fast facts. This week Rick Arthur shouts about The Scream, one of the world's iconic paintings that was first stolen 17 years ago today.

THE BASICS Think you've got it bad? Check out The Scream (Norwegian: Skrik, also translated as Shriek), the title of expressionist paintings and prints in a series by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, showing an agonised figure against a blood red sky. The haunting portrayal of a skull-like face howling in torment and despair has become a symbol of human suffering around the world.

THE DIFFERENT VERSIONS Munch created at least five versions of The Scream. The National Gallery of Norway in Oslo holds one of two painted versions, from 1893. The Munch Museum, also in Oslo, holds the other painted version, from 1910, and one pastel. Another pastel is owned by the Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen. Munch also created a lithograph of the image in 1895.

THE LOCALE The landscape in The Scream is Oslofjord, viewed from the hill of Ekeberg, in Oslo (then Kristiania). Munch's manic depressive sister, Laura Catherine, was in a mental hospital at the foot of Ekeberg at the time of the painting.

THE BACK STORY From Munch's diary: "I was walking along a path with two friends - the sun was setting - suddenly the sky turned blood red - I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence - there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city - my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety - and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

THE THEORY Some speculate that the tinted sky Munch saw was an effect of the eruption of the Asian volcano Krakatoa in 1883, which left the sky red for months across many parts of the world.

THE SCREAMER The scholar Robert Rosenblum suggested in 1978 that the strange creature of uncertain gender in the painting was inspired by a Peruvian mummy, which Munch could have seen at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

THE REACTION The Scream struck people as other-worldly and extraordinary. When the Nazis banned "degenerate" art, Munch was one of their most hated figures.

POP ART The Scream was used on the cover of some editions of Arthur Janov's book The Primal Scream in the late 20th century. In 1983-1984, the pop artist Andy Warhol made a series of silk prints of works by Munch, including The Scream. The post-modern artist Erró parodied Munch in his acrylic paintings The Second Scream (1967) and Ding Dong (1979). The cartoonist Gary Larson replaced the central figure of The Scream with a howling dachshund. The Scream has been used in advertising and political humour and in countless novelty gimcracks and gewgaws.

THE FIRST THEFT The 1893 painted version of The Scream was stolen from the National Gallery of Norway on February 12, 1994. In May, Norwegian and British police recovered the masterpiece, undamaged, in an undercover sting in the coastal town outside Oslo where Munch painted many of his most famous works. Four men were convicted in connection with the theft.

THE SECOND THEFT The other painted version of The Scream and the artist's Madonna were stolen from the Munch Museum on August 22, 2004. Both were recovered, with some minor marks and tears, in 2006. Three men were found guilty of charges relating to the theft.


Five other big art thefts

PARIS, AUGUST 21, 1911 The Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia hid in a closet and walked out with the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, under his coat after the museum had closed. The Italian patriot was caught two years later.

RUSSBOROUGH HOUSE, IRELAND, 1975-2002 Forty-five valuable paintings have been stolen (some of them twice) from the estate in four raids over the years, the first by an Irish Republican Army gang. Most of the paintings have been recovered.

BOSTON, MARCH 18, 1990 The largest art theft in world history occurred as thieves got away with 13 pieces, collectively worth $300 million, from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The works remain unrecovered.

AMSTERDAM, APRIL 14, 1991 Two masked gunmen stole 20 paintings by Vincent van Gogh, worth some $200 million, from the Van Gogh Museum, but abandoned them in their car a short time later.

PARIS, MAY 20, 2010 A thief stole five masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani from the Museum of Modern Art, where the alarm system in several rooms was broken. Probably second only to the Gardner Museum theft in the worth of the plunder. The works remain unrecovered.