Art under attack
Spray-painted Poussins and mauled Monets – a history of art vandalism
It’s a shame that no one in the National Gallery’s room 19 understood French when a visitor recently sabotaged two 17thcentury Poussins with red spray paint. According to witnesses, the art vandal calmly stood back to admire his modifications to The Adoration of the Golden Calf (below) and The Adoration of the Shepherds, while spouting French, presumably explaining his assault. Fortunately, after 48 hours of emergency conservation, the paintings were back in the gallery. The perpetrator may not get off so lightly.
This is not the first time London’s masterpieces have been targeted by attackers. In 1914, two days after the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst, militant suffragette Mary Richardson walked into the National Gallery – no bag searches in those days – and attacked Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus with a meat cleaver. She was sentenced to six months in prison and later claimed that she didn’t like ‘the way men visitors gaped at it all day long’.
Other attacks have featured hammers, acid and shotguns. In 1987, Robert Cambridge smuggled a sawn-off shotgun into the National Gallery and blasted Da Vinci’s Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist from two metres. The shot shattered the protective glass and splinters caused considerable damage to the priceless painting.
But it’s not just high art that suffers. Network Rail workers had a different agenda when they painted over graffiti near Waterloo Station – which happened to be by Banksy. The image of a monkey about to detonate a bunch of bananas, probably worth thousands of pounds, was covered in magnolia paint at the behest of Lambeth Council in 2007. Perhaps Banksy is too underground for his own good – earlier this month he again had his artwork defaced by a do-gooder in Bristol. The Gorilla in a Pink Mask had brightened the wall of a former social club for more than ten years but is now lost beneath a layer of emulsion.
The only case of an art attack going unpunished was in 1908 when Claude Monet defaced his own paintings with a knife because he didn’t feel they were good enough. One wry critic said, ‘It is a pity, perhaps, that some other painters do not do the same.’