Vandalism of art  

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"The incident [vandalism of the Rokeby Venus] has come to symbolize a particular perception of feminist attitudes towards the female nude; in a sense, it has come to represent a specific stereotypical image of feminism more generally." --The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality (1992), p.35, Lynda Nead.

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Vandalism of art refers to intentional damage of an artwork (for unintentional damage see accidental damage of art). The object is usually exhibited in public, becomes damaged as a result of the act, and remains in place right after the act. On the contrary, it is destroyed in art destruction and iconoclasm and removed in art theft, artnapping or looting.

Numerous acts of vandalism against art exhibits are known and some objects, such as Mona Lisa, Night Watch and The Little Mermaid, were intentionally damaged several times. Many vandals were diagnosed with a mental disorder and some, such as Hans-Joachim Bohlmann, had a history of attacking artworks. A vast amount of damage consists of leaving a minor scratch, a stuck chewing gum, a pencil mark and so on and usually escapes publicity. More visible acts of vandalism are premeditated as the tool of destruction, a knife, paint, acid or hammer, was intentionally brought to the scene. In most cases, the artworks were restored. Restorations were costly and time consuming and were followed by shielding the artwork from future attacks.


History of the term

The term vandalisme was coined in 1794 by Henri Grégoire, bishop of Blois, to describe the destruction of artwork following the French Revolution. The term originated from the invasion of Rome in 455 by the East Germanic tribe of Vandals, which resulted in destruction of numerous artworks, and was quickly adopted across Europe.

Repeated vandalism

Hans-Joachim Bohlmann

Hans-Joachim Bohlmann (1937–2009) was a German serial vandal. Between 1977 and 2006, he had damaged over 50 paintings worth more than 270 million Deutsche Marks (about 138 million euro) by such artists as Rubens, Rembrandt and Dürer. Bohlmann had a personality disorder and was treated in various psychiatric hospitals since young age. In most acts, he sprayed paintings with sulfuric acids targeting faces of the personages.

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci has long been attracting vandals and is currently one of the best protected artworks. In 1956, the lower part of the painting was severely damaged when a vandal doused the painting with acid. On December 30 of the same year, a young Bolivian named Ugo Ungaza Villegas threw a rock at the painting. This resulted in the loss of a speck of pigment near the left elbow, which was later painted over.

The use of bulletproof glass has shielded the Mona Lisa from more recent attacks. In April 1974, a handicapped woman, upset by the museum's policy for the disabled, sprayed red paint at the painting while it was on display at the Tokyo National Museum. On August 2, 2009, a Russian woman, distraught over being denied French citizenship, threw a terracotta mug or teacup, purchased at the museum, at the painting in the Louvre; the vessel shattered against the glass enclosure. In both cases, the painting was undamaged.

Night Watch

Rembrandt's Night Watch (1642) is one of the most popular paintings at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It is viewed by about 4,000 to 5,000 visitors daily and was estimated at $925,000 in the 1970s. The painting was also vandalized on several occasions. On 13 January 1911, an unemployed navy cook tried to cut it with a knife, but could not cut through the thick varnish on the painting.

In 1975, an unemployed school teacher William de Rijk cut dozens of zigzag lines in the painting with a knife before he was wrestled by the guards. The day before, de Rijk was turned away from the museum because he arrived after the closing time. After the event, he was identified with a mental disorder; he was sent to a psychiatric hospital and committed suicide there on 21 April 1976. The painting was restored, but traces of the cuts still remain. In 1990, a man threw acid on the painting. The guards managed to quickly dilute it with water so that it penetrated only the varnish layer, and the painting was restored again.

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid is a statue of the mermaid from the fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. The statue is located in the harbor of Copenhagen, it is an icon and a major tourist attraction of the city. The statue has been damaged and defaced so many times since the mid-1950s that in 2007, Copenhagen officials announced that the statue may be moved further out in the harbor to avoid further vandalism and to prevent tourists from climbing onto it.

On 24 April 1964, the statue's head was sawn off and stolen by politically oriented artists of the Situationist movement, amongst them Jørgen Nash. The head was never recovered and a new head was produced and placed on the statue.

On 22 July 1984, the right arm was sawn off and returned two days later by two young men.

In 1990, an attempt to severe the statue's head left an 18 cm deep cut in the neck.

On 6 January 1998, the statue was decapitated again, the culprits were never found, but the head was returned anonymously to a nearby TV station, and reattached on 4 February 1998.

On the night of 10 September 2003, the statue was knocked off its base with explosives and later found in the harbor's waters. Holes were blasted in a wrist and knee of the mermaid.

Paint has been poured on the statue several times, including one episode in 1963 and two in March and May 2007. On 8 March 2006, green paint was poured over the statue and a dildo was attached to its hand.

Acid and paint

In 1880, exhibits of the Russian painter Vasily Vereshchagin in Viena caused opposition of the Catholic Church, which culminated in an attack on two paintings Holy family (Template:Lang-ru) and Resurrection (Template:Lang-ru). A monk splashed enough acid on the paintings to virtually destroy them.

In 1974, Tony Shafrazi wrote "KILL LIES ALL" with red spray paint over the work Guernica by Pablo Picasso. Shafrazi was ostensibly protesting Richard Nixon's pardon of William Calley for the latter's actions during the My Lai massacre. The paint was removed with relative ease from the varnished surface.

On 15 June 1985, Rembrandt's painting Danaë of 17th century was attacked in the Hermitage Museum in Russia. A man, later judged insane, first threw sulfuric acid on the canvas and then cut it twice with a knife. The entire central part of the composition was virtually destroyed. The restoration took 12 years between 1985 and 1997. Since then, the painting is protected with an armored glass.

On 26 June 1996, a 69 years old German man poured a liquid chemical on Celebration of the Peace of Münster (1648) by Bartholomeus van der Helst in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The damage was limited to the varnish layer and could be quickly repaired. The man had a history of art vandalism and was known to the police. Although his pictures were circulated among the museum guards, the man managed to slip in.

In 1997, Alexander Brener painting a green dollar sign on Kazimir Malevich's painting Suprematisme. The painting was restored and Brener was sentenced to 5 months in prison. During the court case, he said in his defense:

"The cross is a symbol of suffering, the dollar sign a symbol of trade and merchandise .. What I did was not against the painting. I view my act as a dialogue with Malewitz."


On 16 January 1913, a 29 years old iconographer Abram Balashev attacked the painting Ivan Grozny and his son Ivan by Ilya Repin in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. With a three knife blows, he cut through the faces of both Ivans. Balashev was found mentally ill and restricted to a psychiatric hospital. The painting was restored by two top restoration experts within a week. The work was greatly assisted by the availability of good quality photographs of the painting.

On 10 March 1914, the militant suffragette Mary Richardson walked into the National Gallery of London and attacked Diego Velázquez's painting Rokeby Venus a meat cleaver knife. Her action was ostensibly provoked by the arrest of fellow suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst the previous day, although there had been earlier warnings of a planned attack on the collection. Richardson left seven slashes on the painting, but they all were successfully repaired. Richardson was sentenced to six months imprisonment, the maximum allowed for destruction of an artwork. In a statement to the Women's Social and Political Union shortly afterwards, Richardson explained, "I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history." She added in a 1952 interview that she didn't like "the way men visitors gaped at it all day long".

In 1988, a man "wishing to take revenge on abstract art" cut with a knife the painting Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III by Barnett Newman. The restoration took 5 years and cost $450,000. After serving time in prison, the offender slashed another Newman's painting.

As a rather unusual case, which might not be classified as vandalism occurred in 1908. An exhibition was set up for May 1908 with paintings by Claude Monet, which were already praised by critics and estimated at $100,000 (1908 prices). In a sudden move, Monet, who was then 68, became dissatisfied with his work and destroyed all paintings with a knife and a paint brush.

Smashing and shattering

On 7 February 1845, the Portland Vase, a Roman cameo glass vase dated to between 5 and 25 BCE, was shattered by drunken William Lloyd, the fourth Duke of Portland and the vase owner. The vase was pieced together and underwent several further repairs, all not entirely successful. The vase appearance became satisfactory only after the recent restoration of 1987.

On 14 September 1991, a "deranged" man attacked the statue David by Michelangelo with a hammer he had concealed under his jacket, damaging the toes of the left foot before being restrained. Ironically, the samples obtained from that incident helped scientists to determine that the marble used was obtained from the Fantiscritti quarries in Miseglia, the central of three small valleys in Carrara. The statue was restored.

La Pietà is a 1499 example of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo, housed in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. On 21 May 1972, a mentally disturbed geologist Laszlo Toth, aged 33, attacked the statue with a hammer while yelling "I am Jesus Christ!", chipping the Virgin Mary's left eyelid, neck, head, veil and left forearm. The forearm hit the ground breaking the fingers. Most broken pieces were collected by the service people but some were taken by tourists. The sculpture was repaired and is now protected by bulletproof glass. Toth was not charged with a crime, but was found socially dangerous and confined for two years to a psychiatric institution in Italy.


In 1912, a young woman kissed forehead, eyes and nose of a portrait by François Boucher in the Louvre. She reportedly wanted to appeal herself.

In 1977, a 43 years old Ruth van Herpen kissed a painting by Jo Baer at the Oxford Museum of Modern Art, claiming to try cheering up a the “cold” painting. She was ordered by law to pay the restoration costs of $1,260.

On 19 July 2007, police arrested an artist Rindy Sam after she kissed the all-white canvas of Phaedrus by Cy Twombly leaving a red lipstick mark. The artwork, which was worth an estimated $2,830,000, was on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Avignon, France. First attempts to remove the mark using about 30 various chemicals were unsuccessful. Sam was tried in a court in Avignon for "voluntary degradation of a work of art". She defended herself by saying the court: "It was just a kiss, a loving gesture. I kissed it without thinking; I thought the artist would understand.... It was an artistic act provoked by the power of Art". In November 2007, Sam was convicted and ordered to pay 1,000€ to the painting's owner, 500€ to the Avignon gallery that showed it, and 1€ to the painter.


In July 1987, a man named Robert Cambridge entered the National Gallery in London with a sawn-off shotgun concealed under his coat. He then shot the painting The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci from a distance of about 2 meters (7 feet). The pellets did not penetrate the protective glass, but shattered it, and the splinters caused significant damage to the artwork. Cambridge told the police that he wanted to express his disgust with "political, social and economic conditions in Britain"; he was placed in a mental institution. The restoration of the painting took more than a year to complete.

Other tools

In January 1998, vandals poked holes in two paintings by Henri Matisse, Pianist with Checkers Players (1924) and The Japanese Woman (1901), exhibited in the Capitoline Museums. The holes were mended in a few days.

On 24 February 2006, a 12 years old boy stuck chewing gum to a $1.5 million abstract painting The Bay by Helen Frankenthaler displayed at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The museum's conservation lab successfully cleaned and restored the painting, which was put back on display in late June 2006.

In 2007, the painting The Triumph of David by Ottavio Vannini (1640) exhibited at the Milwaukee Art Museum was attacked by a 21 year old man with a history of mental illness. He pulled the painting off the wall stumping on it several times. The man was reportedly disturbed by the image of Goliath's severed head.

In 2007, vandals broke into the Orsay Museum in Paris in the early morning, set off the alarm and damaged the painting Bridge at Argenteuil by Claude Monet. They left a 10 cm (4 inch) tear in the middle, either with a hand blow or with a sharp object.

See also

Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue, vandalism of the Rokeby Venus, work of art, vandalism

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Vandalism of art" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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