12 February 1994: Edvard Munch’s The Scream is stolen

One of the world's most famous paintings, The Scream by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, was stolen from the National Art Museum in Oslo on this day in 1994.

The Scream, painted in 1893 by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, is one of the world's most iconic works of art (Munch actually created four versions between 1893 and 1910). The haunting image of the skeletal figure clutching its head and wailing before the setting sun is famous for its depiction of despair. And it's why, on the morning of 12 February 1994, it was stolen.

The Winter Olympics were due to open in Lillehammer later that day. As part of a special cultural exhibition, the painting had been moved to a less secure spot in Norway's National Art Museum in Oslo. While everybody was focusing on the Games, two thieves smashed a window, cut down the painting, and made off with their valuable prize – all in 50 seconds.

Over in London, the Metropolitan Police had earned itself a reputation for tracking down stolen paintings. And so it was to the British bobbies that the Norwegian authorities turned for help.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

Because The Scream was so famous and everybody was looking for it, it was believed almost impossible that the thieves would be able to sell the painting. Instead, the gallery received a ransom demand for $1m, which it refused to pay.

Frustrated, the thieves agreed to sell the masterpiece to a pair of art dealers for £250,000 that May. The dodgy dealers, however, turned out to be undercover British police officers, and the thieves were arrested. The Scream was found undamaged in the southern seaside town of Åsgårdstrand, and returned to the gallery. Four men were convicted of the theft in January 1996.

It's not hard to see why The Scream attracted and continues to attract thieves' attention (another version was pinched in 2004). In May 2012, a pastel version from 1895 fetched $119.9m (£74m) at Sotheby's in New York a record at the time. The bidding lasted just 12 minutes.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.