The stencilled maid by the acclaimed street artist Banksy, a landmark work on the back wall of the Roundhouse in London, is fated to do her dreary tasks alone for all time, it seems. Whatever company she keeps is swiftly removed by higher powers.
The graffiti artist's celebrated cleaner raised hopes that the wall where she resides might become a hotbed of creativity. But when a wooden mantelpiece was screwed into place by an unknown artist on Monday night it met the same fate as all its predecessors – it was removed.
At just six inches wide, the mantelpiece was hardly a major art installation, but within 24 hours it was gone "for health and safety reasons", said the council.
Andrew Marshall, the leader of Camden council, has admitted that the apparent double standards for Banksy works are "a difficult issue". While other graffiti works on the borough's wall are swiftly whitewashed, the precious maid gets regular touch-ups.
It is easy to understand the council's dilemma: Banksy's work has sold for as much as £1m. "He is the quickest growing artist anyone has seen of all time," said Ralph Taylor, a specialist at Sotheby's.
Bonhams will hold its first sale devoted to urban art this week, and Banksy will have 22 of his pieces on show, including Laugh Now, a 6m-wide stencil of monkeys, which carries a £200,000 estimate. Five more Banksy works will be for sale at Sotheby's sale of contemporary art on 28 February, including a continuation of the monkey theme with Simple Intelligence Test, which carries an estimate of £150,000.
Though it will be scant comfort to Banksy's unknown collaborator in Camden, prior to its removal the mantelpiece attracted its fair share of plaudits. Nadia Carney, originally from Belsize Park, said: "I like the fact that Banksy is inspiring other people to create. Who knows, there might be a bowl of flowers on the mantelpiece tomorrow – this could grow and grow."
But the local authority had the final say: "The mantelpiece next to the Banksy mural in Chalk Farm had to be removed for safety reasons. It blended in with the colour of the Roundhouse wall, posing considerable risk of injury for passersby."
Banksy's spokesman declined to comment.
Move over, Banksy: meet the next generation of artists coming up from the street