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Charles Hill, Detective Who Found ‘The Scream,’ Dies at 73

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tags: obituaries, Police, art history, stolen art



Charles Hill, a Scotland Yard detective, stood inside a house in Norway and beheld the artistic treasure he had been searching for: “The Scream,” Edvard Munch’s 1893 masterpiece.

“I unwrapped it from a blue sheet and saw first where Munch had started painting on what’s now on the back,” Mr. Hill told Garage, a fashion and art magazine, in 2018. “The picture is painted on heavy cardboard, which surprised me, but I turned it over and there was the famous image, including the original splatter marks where Munch blew out a candle on it. I said something like ‘Holy mackerel’ while I admired it.”

It was May 1994, three months after two thieves had propped a ladder against the National Gallery in Oslo, stolen “The Scream,” and left behind a taunting note that said, “Thanks for the poor security.” The Norwegian police asked for help from Scotland Yard’s art and antiques unit, which assigned Mr. Hill, a leading specialist in recovering purloined art.

“He was this crazy hybrid — an art cop — which doesn’t really go together,” said Edward Dolnick, author of “The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece” (2005), an account of the “Scream” case. “He had this grand taste for old masters but loved to tell stories of chasing a mugger around the corner.”

Mr. Hill posed as “Christopher Roberts,” a blustery, fast-talking representative of the J. Paul Getty Museum (which was in on the ruse), willing to pay steeply for “The Scream.”

Working with other detectives from the art and antiques unit, Mr. Hill tracked down an art dealer who had connections to the thieves, met with him and one of the crooks in a hotel in Oslo, and agreed to pay $530,000 (nearly a million in today’s dollars) for the painting. He then drove south with the dealer to his summer house in Asgardstrand, where he had hidden “The Scream” in the basement.

“It’s exhilarating to get what you’re going for back,” he told BBC News in 2014, adding that he felt he was “doing my bit for creation.”

Read entire article at New York Times

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