May 28, 2018

Vandalized Art: Masterpieces Under Attack

Ilya Repin’s painting “Ivan the Terrible and his Son” was damaged at Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow), when a 37-year-old man broke its glass casing and attacked it with the metal stand. His motivation was allegedly that the painting distorted historical facts.

In an attempt to understand the motivations of those who vandalize art, we decided to look into some other historical acts of art vandalism.

“Rokeby Venus” 

Velázquez’s painting was slashed 5 times with a meat cleaver whilst on display at the UK’s National Gallery by Mary Richardson. She was protesting suffrage but admitted that the value and the way men gaped at the image also factored into her decision.


Michaelangelo’s Pieta was attacked by a Laszlo Toth, a Hungarian who had moved to Australia. He was not charged criminally, but did spend some time in a mental institution prior to being deported. His was suffering from delusions when he commited the vandalism.

 “The Night Watch” 

This Rembrandt painting has been attacked on three occasions; once by an unemployed shoemaker who was protesting his inability to find work, once by a mentally ill schoolmaster from Holland, and, most recently, in 1990 by a man who sprayed the painting with a chemical solution.

The White Suprematist Cross” 

In 1997, a performance artist Alexander Brener painted a green dollar sign across Malevich’s White Cross to express his protest regarding the role of money in the art world. The media’s coverage highlighted the value of the damage to the piece.

“The Thinker”

Rodin’s “The Thinker” was irreparably damaged when a bomb was detonated near its base. Nobody was ever arrested or claimed responsibility for the attack, but it has been speculated that it was in protest of the US military presence in Vietnam or as a reaction to US governmental elitism generally.

“Black on Maroon”

Rothko’s Black on Maroon was tagged in 2012 by Vladimir Umanets in an effort to publicize the artistic concept he called “Yellowism”. He has publicly expressed his regret for his actions,  and for the damage he did to the piece.

Despite the best efforts of galleries around the world, it seems that there are vandals out there who are determined to inflict damage upon some of the most valuable and revered pieces of art around the world. Do you believe that there is any surefire way to prevent art from being damaged? Let us know in the comments!