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.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea