Art un­der at­tack

Spray-painted Poussins and mauled Monets – a his­tory of art van­dal­ism

Evening Standard - West End Final Extra - ES Magazine - - Word On The Street - HN

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.’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.