Experts investigate art mystery at St. Olaf College

Is it real or is it a fake? That question is at the heart of a real-life art mystery unfolding at St. Olaf College in Northfield. 

The painting in question may be the work of the world’s most famous Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch, best known for his painting, “The Scream.” 

The painting, called “Eva,” is a portrait of Violinist Eva Mudocci. It was donated to the school as part of a collection belonging to Richard Etelie after his death in 1999. 

Since then, “Eva” has been hanging in the college president’s house, long-rumored to be a Munch. 

The stakes grew, however, when a historian working on the violinist approached the school hoping to authenticate the piece. 

“It was then, that we learned a lot more about the relationship between Eva and Edvard, and we learned that there's really good reason to believe it may be an authentic Munch painting,” said Jane Becker, Director and Curator at Flaten Art Museum at St. Olaf College. 

This week, art experts from New York and Philadelphia are examining the piece and taking tiny samples to test in a lab. 

“It's really exciting. He's such a great colorist and we get an opportunity to study all of the different pigments in this work and compare it to the over 900 paint tubes that are owned by the Munch Museum in Oslo,” said Jennifer Mass, President of Scientific Analysis of Fine Arts in New York City. 

“Science has incredible applications on the field of art history and how physics, and chemistry, art history and art are really intertwined in the real world,” Becker said. 

“To have an unfinished painting like this by a master like Edvard Munch, is just such a rarity, and so the opportunities for study and scholarship are absolutely immense,” Mass said. 

There is not yet a price estimate on the piece if it is determined to be real. “The Scream” was sold at auction for nearly $120 million in 2012.

Real or fake, Becker says the piece will remain at St. Olaf. 

“We jump for joy, we're thrilled, and like everything in our collection we keep using it as a research tool and a teaching tool,” Becker said when asked what would happen if the piece is in fact an authentic Munch painting. 

The results of the authentication investigation are expected to take six to eight weeks. The outcome will be announced to the public.