"The condition is much better than we might have expected," said Ingebjoerg Ydstie, the director of the Munch Museum where the paintings were stolen.

She said 'The Scream' had been banged hard in one corner, and that 'Madonna' had a roughly 2.5 centimeter (one inch) hole and some loose paint.

"But our skilled conservators will be able to repair the damage," she said.

After police recovered the paintings this earlier week, it was reported that the two masterpieces had been badly damanged.

Daylight robbery

The two paintings were yanked from the walls of the Munch Museum in Oslo by two masked gunmen in broadlight. They escaped in a car driven by another man, leaving tourists visiting the museum terrified by the ordeal.

Three men were convicted in May of taking part in the theft and were sentenced to up to eight years in jail. Two of whom were ordered to pay $122 million in damages. Three other men were acquitted.

Police said no new arrests or charges had been made in connection with the recovery of the paintings.

Masterpiece

'The Scream,' Munch's most famous work, is an icon of existential angst which shows a terrified figure against a blood-red sky, and 'The Madonna' shows a bare-breasted woman with long black hair - both paintings date back to 1893.

A museum official said that experts at the Munch Museum had examined the pictures and judged them authentic. However a scientific examination will also be carried out to verify the works.

Munch painted two verions of 'The Scream', one of which was recovered last week, but the other was stolen in 1994 from Oslo's National Gallery by thieves who broke a window and climbed in with a ladder.

It was recovered several months later by police posing as buyers.

Munch, who lived from 1863 to 1944, was a pioneer of modern expressionism

Security foiled

Police declined to respond to media speculation that a jailed bank robber, David Toska, had promised information about the paintings if he won a reduced sentence.

The police statement said: "Out of consideration of police working methods, it will be hard to give details about how the operation was carried out."

The Munch Museum underwent a $6.4 million security upgrade after the robbery in 2004.

A spokeswoman for the City of Oslo foundation that owns the Munch Museum collection said that she hoped the paintings could be put back on display soon.