Rothko painting defaced in London
Tim Wright says he captured the image of the defaced painting at Tate Modern on Sunday.
October 7th, 2012
03:53 PM ET

Rothko painting defaced in London

A Mark Rothko painting was defaced at London's Tate Modern on Sunday.

"Tate can confirm that at 15.25 this afternoon there was an incident at Tate Modern in which a visitor defaced one of Rothko's Seagram murals by applying a small area of black paint with a brush to the painting. The police are currently investigating the incident," a museum spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail.

Museum-goer Tim Wright witnessed the act of vandalism and posted an image on Twitter.

The 23-year-old Bristol resident said he was at the Tate during a day trip to London with his girlfriend when the couple realized what was going on. He noticed a man walk into the exhibit, but he thought nothing of it until he heard a "smashing sound."

“It was very surreal. It wasn’t something we expected to see. One minute he sat down, and the next minute he put his foot over the barrier,” Wright said of the vandal.

Wright said they saw the man as he finished up the tag and then made his getaway. He and his girlfriend stayed at the exhibit while a group of nearby women went to find museum staff. An alarm soon went off, and the museum was evacuated. Wright said he and his girlfriend gave a description of the event to a museum employee.

Tate confirmed that the gallery was "briefly closed" due to the incident.

“It’s just not the thing you expect to see in an art gallery," Wright said. "I’ve never seen anything like it. It's quite shocking, actually.”

The defaced painting was a mural from Rothko's famed Seagram series. The Russian-American abstract expressionist was commissioned to do a series of paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant of the Seagram building in New York in 1958. Though he started the series of murals, he famously reneged, deciding the swanky New York restaurant wasn't an appropriate home for his art.

Rothko rejected the commission but completed paintings stemming from the project, many of which made their way into the halls of museums. The murals arrived in London as Rothko killed himself in 1970.

The murals have been on display at many of the Tate's locations as well as the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Rothko's children, Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko, said in a statement that they were thankful for the support of others after the incident.

"The Rothko family is greatly troubled by yesterday's occurrence but has full confidence that the Tate Gallery will do all in its power to remedy the situation," the family said. "Our father donated his legendary Seagram paintings to the museum in 1969 sensing the commitment of the institution to his work and impressed by the warm embrace it had received from the British public. We are heartened to have felt that embrace again in the outpouring of distress and support that we and our father have received both directly and in public forums."

Speculation about the culprit's identity is starting to swirl, but police have offered few specifics. A Met police spokesman said the vandal is "a white man aged in his late 20s who subsequently left the scene, and there have been no arrests at this time.”

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Filed under: Art • Europe
soundoff (91 Responses)
  1. raven

    Why?? Some people, I swear....

    October 7, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. woodin

    How can anyone write a piece on art and not include some picture or 2 of the artist's work........

    October 7, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lost in space

      Try using the Internet or go physically see one.
      Try being a news writer satisfying everyone.

      October 7, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sarah

    Same kind of idiot that would mustache Mona Lisa.

    October 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniel

      First of all, it was a print, not the actual Mona Lisa, that Marcel Duchamp drew a mustache on. Second, Duchamp was no idiot. He was certainly smarter than people who claim to make a pompous statement about drawing mustaches on a print of the Mona LIsa.

      October 7, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Casey

    I just got out of a performance of the play Red, which is about Rothko at the time he was making these very paintings. Strange to see this just now, and sad. It seems the vandalist is successful in having his or her message broadcast to the world, which will certainly result in more of the same.

    October 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. raven

    Casey, I hear ya. It's one thing to utilize a building or public space (a la say, Banksy) and some call it vandalizing, but this guy is vandalizing precious works of art. ( and I realise all art is subjective, and it's value is determined by the observer).

    October 7, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Casey

      Hi raven, thanks for the reply. I enjoyed the play. It introduced a large number of themes in a short period of time. The themes were all interesting, but it might have had greater impact with a more narrow focus. Also, there were many scenes in which Rothko engages in heated debate with his assisitant. Perhaps if there were less such exchanges, then the impact of the heated discussion that remained could have been greater. I still liked it a lot, and perhaps a different production would appeal to me more.

      October 7, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. raven

    And I lost my train of thought, lol!! I meant to ask what you thought of the play?

    October 7, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BOMBO ©

    I'll bet it was them Duke boys.

    October 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. pa sayitstraight


    October 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • pa sayitstraight

      i didn't mean to write idiot. i meant to write it's too sad there are so many guns in america and people incompetent with their use, and so much praise for the use of guns, that a campus policeman would shoot a naked, unarmed 18 year old and kill him, as happened yesterday. that is truly sad. it seems no one knows how to shoot a foot, a leg, a thigh, a hand, a shoulder. they only know how to shoot to kill. they don't know how to dial a telephone and call 911, and even when they do, as in the trayvon martin case, then they still go out and kill. America, you are crazy.

      now, as to the defacement of rothko's painting – yes, sad, too bad, but the painting can be brought back to life. these kids cannot. priorities of sadness? yes.

      October 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. pa sayitstraight

    little mister, see above. what do you think? still a wise crack or do you want to make a difference of some value to the dialogue that can make a difference?

    October 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. RobertC

    Why do you hate bacteria so much? Microbist.

    October 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. raven

    What about angler fish? Their life doesn't seem very meaningful. And theyre really, really ugly.

    October 7, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • pa sayitstraight

      hey, leave Romney and his little liar cohort out of this.

      October 7, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BOMBO ©

    You both fail in your Philip imitation.

    October 7, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. lou50

    people just watched it happened and apparently feel vindicated by just saying what they saw. a chair over the culprits head would have been a better report.

    October 7, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. pa sayitstraight

    really? you must have a direct line to that big scientist in the sky except there's a teeny weeny little problem, besides your arrogance eg no soul exists. more people believe that on this planet than the number of those who believe there is a so called "soul". but it's all belief, right little mster? so try to speak with a bit of humility or you'll go to wherever those who are arrogant go – that is, if they believe in souls. Where is that oh, great warrior? Oh, yes. your house.

    October 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • seyedibar

      yes, there certainly is no shortage of unintelligent people on the planet.

      October 8, 2012 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
    • cja

      So we can decide which fairy taleis correct by counting votes. The one that most believe is correct? So at the time Christians where small in number (in say 100 AD) they were all wrong and now they have become correct.

      Numbers don't matter. At one time most people thought the world was flat. Even if most people think something is true, that means nothing. They could all be wrong. The ONLY justification if believing in any religion is just because you want to. There CAN be no other valid reason. The worst reason possable is "because everyone else does". In the Old South "everyone" owned slaves, guess that made it right.

      October 8, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. raven

    I dunno, those dingly-dangly thingies on angler fish are pretty gnarly. And those snaggletooth mouths. No, I don't think even the ugliest person compares. There is no "so ugly it's cute" anglerfish. But enough about anglerfish. What about those starnose moles?

    October 7, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
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