The Daily Telegraph

National Gallery cutbacks raise JSO threat

- By Dalya Alberge

NATIONAL Gallery security cutbacks are putting paintings in danger from protesters, curators have privately warned.

Staff were shocked to see activists using hammers to smash the glass on Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus earlier this month, while paintings by Constable and Van Gogh were targeted last year.

Curators fear that a reduction in security guards has made the collection more vulnerable to damage or theft.

In the past, every room was patrolled but now guards are each assigned to protect as many as three or four rooms, curators said.

One warned that the room housing King Charles’s current loan of Mantegna’s monumental paintings, The Triumphs of Caesar, was “empty for large sections of the day”.

“Guards are having to do three rooms,” they said. “You can’t be in three places at once and there are large sections of the day where there’s no security in there at all.

“If King Charles’s loans got damaged, that would ruin any hope of further loans. Yet, the internal reports that we’re getting on the security is that everything went fine.”

Referring to the Just Stop Oil protest, they added: “If you’re letting hammers into the National Gallery, you’ve got a serious problem with security.

A National Gallery spokesman said the Rokeby Venus had sustained “minimal damage” but was “not back on display yet”, Michael Daley, of Artwatch UK, said: “Where once attacks came primarily from disturbed individual­s; today they are a soft touch option for political activists who seem to appreciate that staff are instructed not to intervene but simply to report incidents.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, which represents several members of National Gallery staff, said: “Management in these national institutio­ns have stripped back investment in security and outsourced many key staff – all to reduce headcount and cut costs.”

A spokesman for the National Gallery said: “Security is of the highest priority and any changes to its arrangemen­ts are approved by the national security adviser for museums.”

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