OSLO.- The main attractions of the Munch Museums summer exhibition 2008 are the paintings Scream and Madonna, which after conservation again will be presented to the public.
The stealing of Scream and Madonna during the armed robbery in the museum August 22, 2004, brought shockwaves through the international museum world. After two years of police investigation, the paintings were recovered on August 31, 2006. This joyful occasion was, however, somewhat moderated by the fact that the paintings had received rough treatment and suffered serious damages.
The conservation of the paintings has been a painstaking and time-consuming process. A great quantity of information concerning the physical and chemical composition of the paintings has been accumulated, and the conservation methods used are based on the results of numerous tests and reports, in addition to a meticulous evaluation of the choice of methods.
The most conspicuous damage to Scream is a stain in the lower left corner, which has proved impossible to repair in a justifiable way. Conservation on Madonna is finished, apart from some retouching, which will be completed after the summer exhibition. New evaluation of Scream has led to a new dating of the painting.
Even after the conservation the paintings are marked by the damages that occurred in connection with the robbery. But the artistic value of the paintings has not been reduced, says Ingebjørg Ydstie, Chief Curator of the Munch Museum.
The Conservation of Scream and Madonna
The Scream and Madonna were returned to the Munch Museum on 31st August 2006, two years and nine days after the ruthless burglary. The damaged paintings were placed in specially constructed display cases and shown to the public for five days at the end of September. Despite the short duration of the exhibition, it was viewed by 5.500 visitors. Since the exhibition, the pictures have been the subject of comprehensive investigations and a cataloguing of the extent of their damage.
The cataloguing of damage to a work of art is a painstaking endeavour. The paintings were examined millimetre by millimetre with the help of a microscope. The results were compared with earlier documentation in order to distinguish between previous and new damage. An important part of the process was to document the damage directly resulting from the theft, and that which was present in the pictures prior to the theft.
The time consuming work of gathering necessary data was concluded nearly a year after the paintings were recovered. A number of samples were sent abroad for analysis. Small samples of the cardboard that Scream is painted on were analysed to see if it was possible to establish what type of liquid had faded the pictures lower left corner and caused the stain. This was essential in determining whether the damage would remain stable and not develop further, or whether there was a risk that it might deteriorate over time. Small pigment and binding agent samples were taken from both paintings and sent to laboratories for analysis. All of the information that has arisen from this meticulous work has provided the conservators with a sound basis for the choice of treatment.
Ethical guidelines dictate that the conservation work should entail a minimum of intervention and change to the authentic appearance of the paintings. The conservators wish for a minimum of intervention; that is, they wish to perform only those interventions that are absolutely necessary. An important guiding principle is stability; all of the materials used must have long-term stable properties and not lead to changes in the paint layer or the support. The interventions should also be reversible; the treatment should not limit future treatment possibilities. These guidelines are decisive when deciding in collaboration with the museums art historians to what degree the damages shall be repaired, both conservation-wise and aesthetically.
Idemitsu Petroleum Norge AS has contributed a significant amount of funding to support the conservation and research surrounding the two paintings. In addition, Nordisk Film AS is working on a television documentary that will present a reconstruction of the events surrounding the burglary, the return of the pictures, the conservation work and a renewed presentation to the public.
Translation by ©Francesca Nichols