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Acts of Vandalism - Damaged Works of Art

From unintended accidents to deliberate acts of destroying works of art, vandalism is found even in the best of the world’s art museums.

When the private collectors Frances G. and James W. McGlothlin lent their John Singer Sargent painting of girls gathering orange blossoms to the MFA in Boston, they never expected to be contacted by the museum asking for their permission to clean the painting. Apparently a visitor of the museum had sneezed on the work of art. The McGlothlins were satisfied with the cleaning, saying they would never have known the difference.

Steve Wyn, Las Vegas casino mogul, punched a hole with his elbow in his own Picasso. The painting "Le Reve" translated "The Dream" was being shown to some high profile people including the potential buyer. Unfortunately for Wyn, the value of his painting just decreased with this damage as it can never be restored to its original condition.

There is the story of a Gainsborough painting "Rocky Landscape" which was damaged while on loan from the National Gallery of Scotland to the Memphis Museum of Art in Tennessee. It was found to be scratched by an unidentified object. But when? Since a painting by Corot that was owned by the museum also suffered damage at the same time, it was believed to be by the same attacker, and not having happened during shipping.

Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing "Madonna and Child with Saint Anne and the Young Saint John" was severely damaged to the area around Mary’s chest. Also called the "Burlington House Cartoon," luckily this charcoal and white drawing was restored.

A "cartoon" is a full size drawing used as a guide for painting on a wall, canvas, or panel. This cartoon of Mary and Child was never used for transfers as the outlines are not punctuated or incised. To Leonardo aficionados it may look familiar as it resembles Leonardo’s "Virgin of the Rocks." This drawing covers eight sheets of paper glued together and now resides in a recess in the wall of a darkly lit room at the National Gallery in London.

One of the worst attacks to notable works of art was that by a man from Germany. He was said to have attacked and damaged 165 paintings from 1977-1988. AKA the "acid assassin" he is considered one of the most notorious art destroyers. By previously escaping or more recently being released from a mental hospital because there was said to be no further possible treatment, he struck again this year. The painting that was struck by acid was "The Celebration of the Peace of Munster" one of the best works at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Luckily only the varnish was damaged by the chemical and not the painting itself.

Museum blockbusters are seen as a necessity today because financial backing is imperative to maintain a world-class museum. With the sheer numbers of people attending (including school age children) museums are forced to expose these works of art in ways that make them intrinsically vulnerable to humans who chew gum (damaging a Frankenthaler painting) and drink Martinis (causing a patron to vomit near Dale Chihuly glass during a Martinifest at one museum).

If we can walk in the forest and are instructed to "Take only photos and leave only footprints," I ask "Why can't museumgoers look at art with admiration and not touch or destroy it?"

This is a print of Leonardo's "The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist."

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Content copyright © 2015 by Camille Gizzarelli. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Camille Gizzarelli. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Camille Gizzarelli for details.


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