|WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11, 1914.
NATIONAL GALLERY OUTRAGE.
THE ROKEBY VENUS.
SUFFRAGIST PRISONER IN COURT.
EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE.
The famous Rokeby Valasquez, commonly known as the “Venus with the Mirror,” which was presented to the National Gallery in 1906, was mutilated yesterday morning by the prominent militant woman suffragist Mary Richardson. She attacked the picture with a small chopper with a long narrow blade, similar to the instruments used by butchers, and in a few seconds inflicted upon it severe if not irreparable damage. In consequence of the outrage the National Gallery will remain closed to the public until further notice.
To judge from the damaged frame, the first blow was struck at the point marked by the star in the reproduction of the picture which will be found on the preceding page. From that point to the bottom of the frame the plate glass, about one-third of an inch thick, is cracked in all directions upwards and sideways. Downwards nothing remains of the glass except splintered fragments filling the base of the frame and spreading out in front. Altogether the canvas has been slashed in six or seven places, the cuts extending from the top to the bottom of the picture.
What is described by one who afterwards saw the damaged masterpiece as probably the most serious blow has caused a cruel wound in the neck. For three or four inches, he says, it runs almost vertically, and spreads out an inch wide. Another severe cut has been aggravated apparently by the chopper’s having been twisted a little as it withdrawn for the next blow. Further, there is a broad laceration starting near the left shoulder and roughly forming, with two other cuts, a letter “N.” Two of the limbs of that letter are six or eight inches long, and the third is a gash extending right beyond the body and some inches through the drapery below it. The other cuts are cleanly made in the region of the waist. The weapon with which the damage was done luckily had a keen edge, and so did less mischief than an old and blunt weapon would have done.
THE ATTACK ON THE PICTURE.
Miss Richardson, who was released under the “Cat and Mouse Act” in October last and has not since been rearrested, visited the National Gallery about 11 o’clock yesterday morning. She is a small woman, and was attired in a tight-fitting grey coat and skirt. She stood in front of the Rokeby Venus for some moments, apparently in contemplation of it. There was nothing in her appearance or demeanour to arouse the suspicions of the uniformed attendant and a police constable who were on duty in the room and were standing within seven or eight yards of her. The first thought of the attendant, when he heard the smashing of glass, was that the skylight had been broken; but a moment later he saw the woman hacking furiously at the picture with a chopper which, it is assumed, she had concealed under her jacket. He ran towards her, but he was retarded somewhat by the polished and slippery floor. The constable reached the woman first and seizing her by the right arm prevented her from doing further mischief. She allowed herself to be led quietly away to the inspectors’ office. Addressing a few visitors to the Gallery who had meanwhile collected, she said, “Yes, I am a suffragette. You can get another picture, but you cannot get a life, as they are killing Mrs. Pankhurst.”
CLOSING OF THE GALLERY.
Immediately after the outrage the National Gallery was closed to the public and Sir Charles Holroyd, the Director, called a meeting of the Trustees to consider what steps should be taken to afford greater protection to the collection. Among those who attended were Lord Lansdowne, Lord Curzon, Lord Ribblesdale, and Mr Alfred Rothschild. The meeting began at 3 o’clock and lasted until nearly 5 o’clock. It is understood that the meeting was adjourned without any decision having been arrived at. The only official announcement made at the close of that meeting was that the National Gallery would remain closed until further notice. We understand, however, that the need for more adequate protection of the treasures in the National Gallery was the subject of prolonged discussion, and so grave is the view taken of the situation that it is probable that the Government will be approached on the matter. The possibility of a suffragist outrage in the National Gallery has long been present to the minds of the authorities, and special precautions have been taken to prevent it. For the last 12 months the ordinary staff of attendants has been supplemented by police constables, and plain clothes officers have been engaged to watch all the rooms.
The Wallace collection has also been closed until further notice, and the Tate Gallery was closed yesterday afternoon, though it was stated last night that it would probably be open as usual this morning. Sir Whitworth Wallis, Keeper of the Birmingham Art Gallery, gave instructions yesterday that not only the sticks and umbrellas belonging to visitors should be left with the attendants at the doors, but that muffs, parcels, and satchels should also be deposited in their custody.
MISS RICHARDSON’S STATEMENT.
The following statement, signed by Miss Richardson in explanation of her act, has been received by the Women’s Social and Political Union:–
I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas. Mrs. Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let every one remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs. Pankhurst and other beautiful living women, and that until the public cease to countenance human destruction the stones cast against me for the destruction of this picture are each an evidence against them of artistic as well as moral and political humbug and hypocrisy.
HISTORY OF THE PICTURE.
CHANGES OF OWNERSHIP.
The Rokeby Velasquez was purchased in January, 1906 from Messrs. Agnew by the National Art-Collections Fund for £45,000, and was by them presented to the National Gallery, where it has hung ever since. It was universally recognised by good judges as one of the masterpieces of the great Spanish artist, and the width of the circle to which it appealed was shown by the subscription list, which contains names from lovers of art of every class, from the very rich to persons of extremely modest means. The list was headed by “An Englishman,” who gave £10,000, then followed Lord Michelham with £8,000, Messrs Agnew with £5,250, the late Dr. Ludwig Mond with £2,000, and many others who gave £500, £250, £100, £50, and so on, till we come to “A Young Student,” who contributed 2s.
Considerable controversy has from time to time taken place concerning the history of the picture. Many judges believed at one period that it was identical with the “Cupid and Psyche” of Velasquez, which was catalogued amongst the collection in the Mirror Hall of the Alcazar Palace, Madrid, and which disappeared after the great fire of 1734. On this assumption, the question of possible damage by fire was raised about the time when the picture was bought for the National Gallery. Recent researches have, however, proved that the Venus was not in the Alcazar collection, but was entered in the catalogue of the collection of Don Gaspar de Haro, Viceroy of Naples, and cousin of that famous Count-Duke Olivarez, renowned as the patron of Velasquez. The history of the picture is thus known to within a few years of the time when it was painted – about 1655.
From the Haros it passed to the Dukes of Alba as part of a marriage portion, and from them to Godov, the Spanish statesman. It was brought to England by the Duke of Wellington in 1806, having been sold to Buchanan, the dealer and agent, who bought it for £500 for Mr. Morritt, of Rokeby Hall, Yorkshire, the friend of Sir Walter Scott. It remained in his family for close upon 100 years. In 1905 Mr. H. E. Morritt, the then owner, obtained the permission of the Court of Chancery to sell the picture, which was an heirloom, and it came, after one or two interesting stages, into the hands of Messrs. Agnew.
During the time that it belonged to the Merritt family the picture was only exhibited on two occasions – in Manchester, in 1857, when local prejudice against studies from the nude caused it to be “hung high up,” and afterwards at Burlington House, in 1890, when it was so obscured by dirt and old varnish that the face in the mirror could scarcely be distinguished.
The statements current about the time of the purchase for the National Gallery that the picture had been injured were controverted by a report published in December, 1905, by a special committee of three members, who inspected it with the glass removed. They declared that, while the canvas had been enlarged by a strip at the top a few inches wide to make room for the figure of the Cupid holding a mirror, as a whole it was quite sound.
After purchase it was shown in Manchester, Liverpool, and Edinburgh.
THE MASTERPIECE DESCRIBED.
For the benefit of those who have not seen it, we may state that the picture measures about 70in. by 50in., and that it represents Venus, a marvellously graceful female figure, lying on a couch, quite nude, with her back to the spectator, and looking at herself in a small mirror, which shows the reflection of her face, and is held for her by a delightful little Cupid. The picture, which is in perfect condition, is neither idealistic nor passionate, but absolutely natural, and absolutely pure. We may indeed echo the words of an eminent critic and say that “This Spanish Venus is, it may be, not that Aphrodite at all whom lovers tremulously invoke in worship and in awe. She is rather the Goddess of Youth and Health, the embodiment of elastic strength and vitality – of the perfection of Womanhood at the moment when it passes from the bud into the flower.”
The Venus is the only nude study by Velasquez, who seized the chance which the favour of Philip IV. gave him to defy the strict edicts of the Church and Inquisition on the matter. Three other works by the painter in the National Gallery are Admiral Pereja, a head of Philip IV., and a full length portrait of the same King, the latter an early work.
In April, 1910, the Venus once more became the centre of controversy owing to the publication of a statement by Mr. James Greig to the effect that he had discovered the monogram J.B – DM on the picture. This was taken to signify Juan Bautista del Mazo, the son-in-law of Velasquez and his successor as Court painter to Philip IV. Once again the glass covering the picture was removed and a committee of experts requisitioned to make an examination. They reported that they had satisfied themselves that the marks and cracks observed did not show the vestige of any monogram or signature.
A PROBLEM FOR THE OFFICE OF WORKS.
Our Parliamentary Correspondent writes:– The outrage at the National Gallery has given serious concern to the Office of Works. The chief London collections, such as the National Gallery and the British Museum, are not under the immediate supervision of the Department. It is, however, responsible for many national treasures, and among them are the collections at Hampton Court and Kensington Palace. Both buildings, as it happens, are at present closed to the public. Fears of suffragist outrages are not the immediate cause, though both have been closed in the past for this reason. The Department finds that there is very little need for keeping Hampton Court open to the public during the winter, as visitors are so few. Kensington Palace is closed to allow of the removal of the London Museum to its new home at Stafford House.
The Office of Works will now have seriously to consider whether the palaces are to be re-opened to the public, and if any restrictions are to be imposed on visitors.
Questions on the subject were put yesterday in the House of Commons.
POLICE COURT PROCEEDINGS.
AN EXPERT’S ACCOUNT OF THE DAMAGES.
When, as has already been stated, Miss RICHARDSON was brought up before Mr. Hopkins at Bow-street Police Court, the charge-sheet described her as being 31 years of age, a journalist, giving as her address the offices of the Women’s Social and Political Union, Kingsway. The accusation was that she had maliciously damaged the “Rokeby Venus” to the amount of £40,000, the property of the Trustees and Director of the National Gallery.
Mr. Herbert Muskett, who prosecuted on behalf of the Commissioner of Police, described the circumstances of the outrage, and went on to state that the prisoner had been prosecuted on many occasions and was present under the provisions of the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act.
After Police-constable 223 C and Charles Lewis Atkinson, an attendant at the National Gallery had given evidence as to their having seized the prisoner while she was “hammering away” at the picture with the chopper.
Mr. Hawes Turner, Keeper and Secretary of the National Gallery, was called as a witness. He said that the picture was presented to the nation by a body of subscribers in 1906. It was quite a unique picture , and cost £45,000. The glass had now been shattered, and there were seven distinct injuries to the canvas on the most important part of the work. Six were clean cuts, having apparently been inflicted with the cutting edge of a chopper, and the seventh and most important injury was a ragged bruise, and appeared to have been inflicted with the flat part of the end of a chopper.
Mr. Musket. – In the mere matter of commerce, what do you suppose is the amount of damage done?
The witness replied that to speak of the market value of a picture in a national collection was misleading, because it could have no market value. Assuming that the picture was in the open market and that its original value was £45,000, he should say that its selling value would be affected to the extent of about £10,000 to £15,000. That, however, was only a personal opinion of his own, and he should desire it to be supported. Having regard to the cleanness of most of the cuts, the cost of relining and repairing the injuries would probably be less than £100.
The prisoner, who had not cross-examined any of the witnesses, said that she was amazed at any magistrate being willing to preside over this farce of trying her, as this was the tenth time she had been brought before a magistrate in one year. The situation was ridiculous, and Mr. McKenna had made the Criminal Code into a comic valentine. The magistrate must surely see that he could not administer the dead letter of the law against the spirit of a new law which was manifest in the women suffragists. She also wished to say that she had a great contempt for any Administration which did not treat all persons equally. Mr. McKenna had not had her rearrested under the Cat and Mouse Act, as he had done other women. He was afraid of killing her by forcible feeding and torture, but she was not afraid of dying. Therefore he was the greater coward and could not coerce her. He could not make her serve her sentences, but could only again repeat the farce of releasing her or else killing her; either way, hers was the victory.
The magistrate committed her for trial, and said that he should not allow bail.
The Times, 11 March 1914, pages 9 & 10