Vandalism of the Rokeby Venus  

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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
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The slashing of the Rokeby Venus is an episode in the history of radical feminism and art vandalism.

On March 10, 1914, the militant suffragette Mary Richardson walked into the National Gallery and slashed Velázquez's Rokeby Venus with a meat cleaver. 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 suffragette attack on the collection. Richardson left seven slashes on the painting, particularly causing damage to the area between the figure's shoulders. However, all were successfully repaired by the National Gallery's chief restorer Helmut Ruhemann.

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".

The feminist writer Lynda Nead observed, "The incident 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." (Nead, Lynda, The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality) Contemporary reports of the incident reveal that the picture was not widely seen as mere artwork. Journalists tended to assess the attack in terms of a murder (Richardson was nicknamed "Slasher Mary"), and used words that conjured wounds inflicted on an actual female body, rather than on a pictorial representation of a female body. The Times, in an article that contained factual inaccuracies as to the painting's provenance, described a "cruel wound in the neck", as well as incisions to the shoulders and back.




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

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