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

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living