Ten years ago today, the painting -- considered the Mona Lisa for more neurotic times, and a tangible inspiration for panic attacks, dorm room poster hangers, Halloween costumes, movie villain disguises and general anxiety -- was stolen from the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway.
The armed robbery led to the sort of apprehension the painting distills -- that of profound shock and worry. However, the incident had a happy ending, except for the three people convicted of the theft in 2006, as well as the museum, whose security system was the subject of scorn in the art world.
Munch (1863-1944) was a Norwegian artist who actually painted four versions of The Scream, which he called Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature), between 1893 and 1910; he also painted a series of lithographs based on the paintings. The one on display at the Munch Museum, done in 1910, was stolen by armed, masked men in broad daylight, who also took another non-Scream Munch work, as onlookers watched in horror, their faces echoing Munch's troubled subject.
The thieves ran to a car and escaped, starting the search for The Scream and raising the painting's profile throughout the world once again.
The incident was actually the second high-profile theft of The Scream. In 1994, another version of the work was stolen from The National Gallery, Oslo. That heist coincided with the opening day of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and arrests came after the thieves demanded a $1 million ransom. While that version was recovered within two months, it took nearly two years for authorities to locate the painting pilfered from the Munch Museum.
After one arrest in the Munch Museum theft, in 2005, rumors of the work's destruction, to conceal evidence, swept the nervous art world. By June of that year, four suspects were in custody. The Oslo government offered a 2 million kroner ($313,000) reward to locate the painting, with no success.
Six men went on trial, for theft of the painting or for complicity in planning the heist, in 2006. Three were convicted and sentenced to between four and eight years in prison. Two were ordered to pay 750 million kroner ($117.6 million) to the city of Oslo as compensation; the Munch Museum is an Oslo tourist attraction, and The Scream is its most prominent display.
In August 2006, Norwegian police announced finding both stolen paintings, offering few details, but British detectives, posing as art collectors and buyers, were involved. The Scream suffered some water damage, but was put back on display in September, before removal from exhibition for restoration.
The Munch Museum also closed for 10 months for a total overhaul of its security systems.