Leak at Prado threatens Velazquez

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The Independent Online
SODDEN red blankets were the star weekend attraction in Salon number 12 at the Prado Museum in Madrid, diverting the gaze of curious tourists from the Velazquez masterpieces near by. Were the cordoned-off blankets, perhaps, a guest exhibit from the Reina Sofia modern arts museum, as aesthetically fascinating as Antoni Tapies's crumpled Bedsheet (1969), which adorns a wall of the latter?

There was no explanatory plaque but might the drip, drip, drip from the ceiling be an integral part of the 'exhibit', the tourists wondered? Should the patches of damp where paintings used to hang also be gazed upon with tilted head and knowledgeable curiosity?

The visitors did not have to wonder for long. As they slithered across the slippery floor in front of Velazquez's most famous piece, Las Meninas, they realised the Prado had simply sprung a leak. Or two or three. The royal dog in the foreground of Las Meninas appeared in imminent danger of being splashed.

Constant and torrential rain throughout the weekend forced the closure of several lower salons of the Prado for a day and the removal of several masterpieces from badly dampened walls, causing disgruntled mutterings from many tourists. The Prado had, after all, been renovated just two years ago.

The museum's director, Felipe Garin, took a media beating after it was learnt that a skeleton holiday staff had at first tried to stem the flow with buckets and that he had been first apprised of the situation at his home in Valencia by the daily newspaper ABC. Mr Garin responded that such drips were normal in rainy weather, 'much worse at the Louvre or the National Gallery in London', and that the matter was hardly a newspaper story. ABC quoted part of the conversation thus:

Mr Garin: 'On a day like this, I'm sure there are drips in most houses.'

ABC: 'But Mr Garin, most houses don't have Las Meninas on their walls.'

Mr Garin: 'Yes, well, quite. If you look at it that way. I suppose it is a story.'

Mr Garin gave his assurance that there was no damage to any paintings and that 'everything will be alright when it stops raining'.