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Mystery of the missing Munches: 47 paintings have vanished from Oslo museum’s collection

Mystery of the missing Munches: 47 paintings have vanished from Oslo museum’s collection
Dozens of valuable paintings believed to be safe in the collection of Oslo’s Munch Museum have come up missing, according to a probe by Norwegian outlet Dagbladet. Nearly 50 works –including six Munches– are unaccounted for.

Curators at the Munch Museum were shocked to find almost twice as many paintings missing from their collection as they had suspected. While the museum admitted last year to Dagbladet that 26 works were unaccounted for, the outlet can now confirm that at least 47 works are not where they should be – including six paintings by Edvard Munch himself.

Elisabeth Munch-Ellingsen, great-granddaughter of Edvard Munch’s brother, was saddened to find so many paintings missing and hopes the shock will serve as a wake-up call to the museum and the city of Oslo to take better care of their cultural heritage.

Stein Olav Henrichsen, director of the Munch Museum, acknowledged that Munch-Ellingsen was right to dismiss the city’s stewardship as “to cry over,” but stressed that the Munch Museum had not had a chance to properly review its archives since merging with the Stenersen Museum eight years ago. The museum is planning to move to a new space in 2020.

The missing paintings were part of the Stenersen collection – 900-odd artworks donated to the city of Aker (now part of Oslo) by collector Rolf E. Stenersen. They were hung on the walls of Sogn Student Village in 1952 and remained there –more or less– until 1973, when Munch’s “Story” was cut from its frame and spirited away.

While the prodigal painting was eventually discovered in a plastic bag in a nearby park, the city removed the priceless paintings from the corridors of Sogn after that incident, having long debated whether they were secure enough out in the open adorning the student dormitory. Other paintings had gone missing in the interim, and Munch-Ellingsen believes that some of the missing works will turn up if museum staff are able to locate the former students who once lived at Sogn.

After 20 years in storage, the Stenersen collection was finally displayed to the public again starting in 1994, when the Stenersen Museum opened in Oslo. In 2010, the Munch Museum took over the collection, which includes works by Erik Harry Johannesen, Ludvig Karsten, and Kai Fjell, in addition to Munch.

Even in the Munch Museum, Munch’s works have not exactly been safe – two of his most famous works, “The Scream” and “Madonna,” were stolen in broad daylight in 2004 by two armed men who ripped them from the wall, threatening tourists and museum staff. They were recovered two years later.

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