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Recovered Munch paintings displayed

September 27, 2006|From the Associated Press

OSLO, Norway — The Edvard Munch masterpieces "The Scream" and "Madonna," damaged when they were stolen in 2004, were displayed for the media Tuesday for the first time since the theft.

The priceless paintings were shown under tight security at the Oslo Munch Museum, which also plans a brief public exhibition before painstaking restoration begins. Police recovered the artworks on Aug. 31, just over two years after masked gunmen stole them from the museum in a bold daylight raid.

"The Scream," probably Munch's best-known work, has become an icon of modern anxiety, appearing on everything from T-shirts to costume masks. There are four versions of the painting, depicting a waiflike figure apparently screaming or hearing a scream. "The Scream" suffered damage to one corner, and "Madonna" had two small rips in its canvas. They also had scratches, but the museum said both could be repaired.

For the media preview, as well as for the public exhibition today through Sunday, the works were laid on a table, each under a heavy, specially designed glass box.

Art lovers had been clamoring to see the paintings, which museum officials said could take a year or more to restore.

"We wanted to share the homecoming with the public," said museum director Ingebjoerg Ydstie. "The paintings were not so badly damaged that they could not be displayed without full artistic appreciation."

After the exhibition, experts will begin a four-step restoration process, she said. They will assess the damage, agree on repair methods and set an ethical limit on the extent of restoration before finally starting the actual work. "There is a line between restoring and adding something to the pictures," she said. "You can't add new elements to an original Munch work."

That includes deciding whether the artworks could be touched up with paint and, if so, how much, said museum conservator Biljana Topalova-Casadiego.

She said damage assessment on its own was a time-consuming project, using such technology as X-rays and microscopes.

"You can't see all the damage by eye," Topalova-Casadiego said. "Much of the damage is at the micro level."

The two paintings were displayed in a special room where other Munch works, including his sketches and other versions of the images, lined the walls. A poster on one wall cited an 1892 entry in Munch's diary about "The Scream" in which he said, "I stood there trembling with anxiety. And I felt a great, infinite scream pass through nature."

At the time of the August 2004 robbery, security at the city-owned museum was light. After a massive upgrade following the theft, however, entering the museum is akin to passing through airport security, with metal detectors and baggage scanners.

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