OSLO (voa) - Police are combing the Norwegian capital looking for thieves who made off with Edvard Munch's famous painting The Scream.
Witnesses say stunned museum-goers watched as two men armed with handguns and dressed in dark clothing rip the painting from the wall of an Oslo museum Sunday. The robbers grabbed a second Munch painting Madonna and ran out of the building to a waiting car.
The Scream is the most famous work by the gifted Norwegian painter and printmaker. It shows an anguished figure on a bridge with its head in its hands and is considered an icon of existential angst (anxiety). Munch helped create the 20th-century European Expressionist movement.
A version of the masterpiece was stolen from an exhibition in Oslo in 1994 during Norway's winter Olympic games at Lillehammer, but recovered undamaged three months later.
Edvard Munch's most famous work has gained enormously in popularity, especially since World War II. Perhaps the existential fear here rendered by the artist has become more widespread in recent decades?
In the foreground, on a road with a railing along it, we see a figure: his hands raised to his head, eyes staring, mouth gaping. Further back are two gentlemen in top hats, and behind them a landscape of fjord and hills. The first time Munch described the experience which gave rise to this painting was in Nice, writing in his literary diary. The entry for 22 January 1892 reads:
"I was walking along the road with two friends.
The sun was setting.
I felt a breath of melancholy -
Suddenly the sky turned blood-red.
I stopped, and leaned against the railing, deathly tired -
looking out across the flaming clouds that hung like blood and a sword
over the blue-black fjord and town.
My friends walked on - I stood there, trembling with fear.
And I sensed a great, infinite scream pass through nature."
When art historians call Munch, together with artists like Van Gogh, "the founder of Expressionism", it is because of a picture such as The Scream. The work depicts not so much an incident or a landscape as a state of mind. The drama is an inner one, and yet the subject is firmly anchored in the topography of Oslo - the view is from Nordstrand towards the two bays at the head of the Oslofjord, with Holmenkollen in the background. The evening landscape has been distilled into an abstract rhythm of wavy lines. The road with its railing, leading diagonally inwards, creates a powerful pull of perspective in the composition, and intensifies the disquieting atmosphere in the picture.
Several sketches and preparatory studies for this painting survive. The motif also features in Munch's graphic works.