It was scary, daring and brief: "The Scream" has vanished.
Armed thieves burst into a museum in Norway on Sunday, held a guard at gunpoint, yanked Edvard Munch's vision of existential angst off the wall, along with a second Munch painting, whisked past stunned visitors and jumped into a stolen sedan that sped through the streets of Oslo.
It was the second time in little more than a decade that a version of "The Scream" had been stolen from an Oslo museum.
Sunday's heist, which unfolded about 11 a.m. at the Munch Museum, was a brazen flash of ingenuity in a nation more attuned to the rhythms of North Sea life. Museum officials suggested that the theft was most likely the work of an international ring that would seek a ransom because "The Scream" was too famous to be sold on the open market or to a private collector.
The painting depicts a wispy figure with a light bulb-shaped head and an anguished mouth that is emblazoned worldwide on T-shirts, refrigerator magnets and blowup dolls.
Police said two armed thieves entered the museum while a third waited in the getaway car. One of the men pointed a gun at a guard's head. No alarms sounded when the paintings were ripped off the wall.
As many as 30 tourists witnessed the theft, but some had scattered through the hallways.
The thieves, who also grabbed "Madonna," ran to the car, loaded their cache and disappeared. The car was found later on an Oslo street, along with shards of the paintings' discarded frames.
Authorities have sealed Norway's borders, and government officials have called for overhauling security systems.
"We don't have all the details on the situation, but we are searching for the suspects in the air and on the land," police spokesman Kjell Moerk told Norwegian radio.
One of the robbers spoke Norwegian, police said.
No shots were fired during the theft, and no one was injured, government officials and witnesses said, adding that police arrived about 15 minutes after the theft began.
Francois Castang was in the museum when the commotion erupted. He told France Inter Radio: "What's strange is that in this museum, there weren't any means of protection for the paintings, no alarm bell. The paintings were simply attached by wire to the walls. All you had to do was pull on the painting hard for the cord to break loose, which is what I saw one of the thieves doing."
Another witness, Marketa Cajova, said one of the thieves had "a black face mask and something that looked like a gun to force a female security guard down on the floor."
Painted in 1893 as part of a series, "The Scream" heralded the 20th century Expressionist movement. Munch depicted the anxiety, fear, love, illness and death that pervade the human psyche.
Another of the four versions of the painting was stolen in February 1994 as the Winter Olympics were beginning in Lillehammer, Norway. The thieves, who had climbed through a broken window in Oslo's National Gallery, demanded a $1-million ransom, which was never paid. The painting was found undamaged nearly three months later in a hotel about 40 miles south of Oslo.
The Munch Museum had two of "The Scream" paintings, a private collector owns a third version, and the fourth is back on display at the National Gallery.
"They are all just as valuable," Jorunn Christoffersen, a spokeswoman for the Munch Museum, told Associated Press.
"Still, these paintings are not possible to sell, and it's impossible to put a price tag on them," she said.
The stolen "Madonna" was painted around 1894.
Munch died in 1944 at the age of 81.
Times special correspondent Bjorn Ove Holmberg contributed to this report from Norway.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times