This Day in History (12-Feb- 1994) : Art thieves snatch world’s best-known paintings Scream

On 12-Feb-1994, thieves stole one of the world’s best-known paintings from a gallery in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. Two men took just 50 seconds to climb a ladder, smash through a window of the National Art Museum in Oslo and cut The Scream, by Edvard Munch, from the wall with wire cutters. The cutters were left behind along with a short ladder as the men fled with the painting. The entire incident was filmed by security cameras. The painting was priceless and Munch’s most renowned one. Art experts believed that it would be impossible for thieves to sell the Scream on the open market  It was believed to have been uninsured. The painting was in the gallery as the highlight of a Norwegian Culture Festival staged in connection with the Winter Olympics which was starting that day in Lillehammer. There was a speculation that it may have some connection with the Games, possibly as a publicity stunt by campaigners. The museum faced a strong criticism over its security after it was revealed that the masterpiece had been moved from the more secure first floor to the ground floor for the exhibition.

Initially, a radical Norwegian anti-abortion group claimed responsibility for the theft, but police remained sceptical. In March 1994, the gallery received a £700,000 ($1m) ransom demand for the painting. The gallery board refused to pay, unsure that the demand was genuine. Norwegian police contacted London shortly after the theft and the Norwegians worked closely with Chief Inspector John Butler, head of Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques squad.  In May 1994, Norwegian and British police mounted an undercover sting which uncovered the painting, unharmed, in the seaside town outside Oslo where Edvard Munch painted many of his most famous paintings. Two Metropolitan Police officers fooled the thieves by pretending they would buy the painting for £250,000.

In January 1996, four men were convicted and sentenced in connection with the theft. One of the two thieves who carried out the raid, Paal Enger, is now a legitimate art buyer, acquiring his first Munch – an unsigned lithograph – at auction in 2001.




This Day in History (11-Dec-1913) – “Mona Lisa”, stolen from the Louvre Museum in 1911, recovered

On August 21, 1911, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, one of the most famous paintings in the world, was stolen right off the wall of the Louvre (famous museum in Paris, France). The Louvre was closed for a week to aid the investigation. Police found the plate of glass which was placed on the painting and Mona Lisa’s frame lying in a staircase. But investigation headed nowhere.

In the Autumn of 1913, a well-known antique dealer, Alfredo Geri, innocently placed an ad in several Italian newspapers which stated that he was “a buyer at good prices of art objects.” Soon after he placed the ad, Geri received a letter dated November 29 (1913), that stated the writer was in possession of the stolen Mona Lisa. The letter had a post office box in Paris as a return address and had been signed only as “Leonardo.” Geri contacted Commendatore Giovanni Poggi, museum director of the Uffizi (museum in Florence, Italy). Geri replied showing interest. Another letter came almost immediately asking Geri to go to Paris to see the painting. Geri replied, stating that he could not go to Paris, but, instead, arranged for “Leonardo” to meet him in Milan.

On December 10, 1913, an Italian man appeared stating he was Leonardo Vincenzo and that he had the Mona Lisa back in his hotel room. Leonardo explained that he had stolen the painting in order to restore to Italy what had been stolen from it by Napoleon. Thus, Leonardo made the stipulation that the Mona Lisa was to be hung at the Uffizi and never given back to France. Upon his leaving, Geri contacted the police and the Uffizi. The following day, Geri and Poggi (the museum director) appeared at Leonardo’s hotel room. Leonardo pulled out a wooden trunk. After opening the trunk, Leonardo pulled out a pair of underwear, some old shoes, and a shirt. Then Leonardo removed a false bottom — and there lay the Mona Lisa. The museum director said that he would need to compare the painting with other works by Leonardo da Vinci. They then walked out with the painting. Leonardo Vincenzo, whose real name was Vincenzo Peruggia, was arrested. Peruggia hadn’t had a plan to dispose of the painting; his only goal was to return it to Italy. The painting was displayed throughout Italy before it was returned to France on December 30, 1913.


This Day in History (29-Apr-1971) – A commemorative stamp was issued by the Postal Department in the honour of Raja Ravi Verma

Raja Ravi Varma was born on 29th April 1848, in Kilimanoor, a small town of Kerala. Coming from a family of creative personnel comprising of scholars, poets and painters, it was only natural for young Varma to be blessed with artistic ingenuity. While his family abhorred this behaviour of young Varma, it was his uncle, Raja Raja Varma, a Tanjore artist, who realized his true potential and calling. He resolved to tap the creative ingenuity of the young boy to make him a proficient artist. At the age of 14, Ravi Varma moved to Thiruvananthapuram, where he received training in water painting by the palace painter, Rama Swamy Naidu. He received systematic training, first in the traditional art of Thanjavoor and then, in the European art. He is credited with providing the critical link between Thanjavoor School and Western academic realism.

Raja Ravi Varma is known for his amazing paintings, which revolve mainly around the great epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. He was continuously traveling through the length and breadth of India, in order to find subjects for his paintings. His love for the South Indian women is depicted through his works. In many of his paintings, he has modeled Hindu Goddesses on the women living in the southern parts of India. The most popular as well as impressive paintings of Raja Ravi Verma include the ones depicting episodes from the story of Dushyanta and Shakuntala and that of Nala and Damayanti.

He also received international recognition in 1873, when he won the first prize for his paintings at the Vienna Art Exhibition. Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings of beautiful sari clad women have also received recognition in the west. In recognition of the immense contribution of Raja Ravi Varma towards Indian art, the Government of Kerala has instituted an award in his name. Known as the ‘Raja Ravi Varma Puraskaram’, the award is given to individuals who show considerable promise in the field of art and culture. In 2013, a crater on Mercury was named in the honor of this greater Indian painter.



This Day in History (12-Apr-1992) – The 350-tonne Buddha statue salvaged from the Hussain Sagar where it had sunk in 1990

During his visit to New York, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. T. Rama Rao saw the Statue of Liberty and was inspired by the efforts to restore it. He said “I wanted something like that … That would have been my contribution to society.” Rama Rao chose to depict Gautama Buddha because “he was a humanitarian who told the whole truth to the people. It is our pride.” Also Hyderabad was a major Budhhist center in the time of King Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. After a long search, the team found a solid granite rock on a mountainside 40 miles outside Hyderabad. For over a year, hundreds of labourers helped the temple architect and builder S.M.Ganapathi Sthapati create the statue. After five years and the expenditure of US$3 million, the statue stood at 58 feet and weighed 350 tons, making it the world’s tallest monolithic statue of the Buddha. A concrete platform measuring 15 feet, now referred to as the “Rock of Gibraltar,” was constructed in the middle of Hussain Sagar to aid in erecting the statue. The roads of the Hyderabad city were also widened for this purpose.

ABC Limited, a local company, was given the responsibility of transferring the statue onto the concrete platform. Using a trailer vehicle, the statue was brought to the shore of Hussain Sagar. On March 10, 1990, company workers shifted the statue on top of a barge. After traveling only 100 yards, the statue tipped and fell into the lake. The accident killed 10 people.

After a two-year salvage operation, the statue was pulled out of the lake and was installed on the platform successfully in 1992. While it has never been admitted by political leaders, they were wary of consecrating the statue for what appeared to be sentimental reasons. Former Chief Minister N.T. Rama Rao lost power even as sculptors were working on the statue. Tragedy of killing 10 people struck when M. Channa Reddy was the Chief Minister. It was up to former Chief Minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu to get the statue installed. In 2006, the Dalai Lama consecrated the statue after performing a ritual.