Stolen Munch paintings worth £50m not insured

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The paintings by Edvard Munch that were stolen from a museum in Oslo on Sunday were not insured against theft.

The Scream and Madonna were taken at gunpoint from the Munch museum at 11am while visitors looked on. Another version of The Scream was stolen from Oslo's national gallery in February 1994, but recovered three months later.

The director of the Munch museum, Gunnar Soerensen, appealed to the robbers to "please take care of the paintings, no matter what else you do with them".

They were insured against fire and flood, but not robbery, said John Oyaas, managing director of the insurance company for the city of Oslo, which owns the Munch collection. The reason, he said, was that it was impossible to set a price on them. But he said the theft raised the question of security - "How can we make these artworks available to the public while still securing them?"

The lightly guarded Munch museum has silent alarms and security staff. But there was little that unarmed museum guards could do to stop robbers with guns.

In 2001, thieves raided neighbouring Sweden's national museum and cut down a self portrait by Rembrandt and two paintings by Renoir. Those paintings were hanging from steel wires, like the paintings in the Munch museum.

Jan Birkehorn, head of security at the national museum in Sweden, said it was almost impossible to make paintings theft-proof without ruining the experience for visitors.

"Should you put them inside security monitors with thick glass? I think the experience of looking at them would be lost," he said.