Priceless! Art's great disasters

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As the star exhibit in Tracey Emin's Royal Academy show is accidentally smashed to smithereens, Sophie Morris relives the excruciating incidents and mishaps that left 12 masterpieces in tatters

Drawing for Surrounded Islands, Christo and Jeanne-Claude

The Bulgarian artist Christo, who works with his wife Jeanne-Claude, gained acclaim for surrounding 11 islands off Miami with polypropylene. One of his preparatory drawings for the Miami work was damaged in transit, when a packing company drove straight through the work with a forklift truck. The piece now sits in the offices of its London insurer, Axa Art, as Christo prefers damaged pieces not to be sold.

Le Rêve, Picasso

Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn had just agreed a £74m sale for his Picasso, Le Rêve (The Dream), when he stumbled into the canvas in 2006, busting a hole in it with elbow. The painting hung in Wynn's office alongside a Matisse and a Renoir, and he was showing it to guests when he backed into the canvas, leaving a two-inch tear. The sale fell through.

Wall Relief, Craig Kauffman

When, in 2006, American art dealers and collectors shipped the exhibition Los Angeles 1955-1985: the Birth of an Artistic Capital to the Pompidou Centre in Paris, they imagined the many seminal works would be well looked after. In fact, two were damaged – an 8ft polyester resin bar by Peter Alexander dropped off a wall before launch night, and Craig Kauffman's Untitled Wall Relief, which had survived three earthquakes in LA, soon met the same fate.

Qing vase

A clumsy visitor to Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum tripped over his shoelace and fell down a staircase, taking a set of 300-year old Chinese vases with him. The Qing porcelain, dating from the 17th century, was among the museum's most valuable pieces. The painstaking clean-up took two and a half days as all the pieces needed to be saved. Restoring the vases (one of which weighed 45kg) was a six-month job. The visitor was arrested but released without charge, and the vases are now back on display.

Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art

Gustav Metzger A plastic bag of discarded paper thrown away at Tate Modern in 2004 turned out to be part of a copy of a 1960 work showing the "finite existence" of art. Ironically, Metzger was a founder of the Auto-Destructive movement.

House, Rachel Whiteread

In the autumn of 1993 Whiteread rendered a Victorian terraced house in concrete on an east London site where the road had already been demolished by Tower Hamlets council. The work won her the Turner Prize and was described in this newspaper as "one of the most extraordinary and imaginative sculptures created by an English artist", but the council still demolished it a year later.

Painting-By-Numbers, Damien Hirst

To mark the opening of his 2001 exhibition of Painting-By-Numbers, Hirst assembled empty beer-bottles, overflowing ashtrays and paint tins into a gallery installation. He intended the construction to resemble a messy artist's studio. When the cleaner arrived after the launch, he cleared it all away. The work was retrieved from the dustbin. Hirst declared it "very funny".

Mantegna Frescoes, Andrea Mantegna

The Allied air raids on Italy in 1944 were intended to cripple industrial centres. On the way back to base, one pilot dropped his bombs over Padua, striking the Church of the Eremitani and destroying a set of 15th-century frescoes.

Venus de Milo

The sculpture of Venus or Aphrodite stands in state in Paris's Louvre, mesmerisingly beautiful despite her broken form. She was discovered by a Greek peasant on the island of Milos in 1820, broken into two large pieces, an apple in her left hand. As soon as French naval officers recognised the historical significance of the ancient sculpture, they set about hauling the marble bulk off the island. A fight broke out as Venus was dragged across rocks to a waiting ship and both arms were broken off. The exhausted sailors refused to retrace their steps and search for the body parts, so the goddess's left arm remained cut off at the shoulder and her right at breast level.

Pulp Fiction, Banksy

Last April, months after a Banksy had sold for £102,000 at Sotheby's (a record for the artist), Transport for London painted over his Pulp Fiction mural in London's East End. The piece, which depicted John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson clutching bananas, was considered graffiti. One critic remarked that this would raise Banksy's stock and soon after, his Space Girl & Bird piece fetched £288,000, 20 times the estimate. By October, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie spent £1m on works by the "guerrilla artist".

Vase with Five Sunflowers, Van Gogh

Van Gogh's 1888 painting was part of the Sunflowers series. Still Life: Vase with Five Sunflowers was shipped to Japan in 1920 and bought by Koyata Yamamoto, who stored it in a bank vault, where the piece was burnt in a fire ignited by an American air raid in 1945.

The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci painted his 15th-century masterpiece The Last Supper on wet plaster, using a mix of egg yolks and vinegar. Within a few years the Milanese mural was flaking, and it was pronounced "ruined" half a century later. When a curtain was hung across the work in the 18th century, it trapped moisture close to the surface and scratched the flaking paint when it was pulled back. The most recent restoration effort lasted 21 years.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve