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
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
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
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn