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.”

Post by:
Filed under: Art • Europe
soundoff (91 Responses)
  1. Josh

    Really CNN? Can't put a photo from on CNN the channel? I've seen the graphics you're capable of. Putting an image from your own site on the t.v. screen shouldn't be that difficult.

    October 7, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. raven

    Well, they might be gentle, I'll give you that. But they are ugly.

    October 7, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. banasy©

    Seems to me if this guy had enough presence to take a picture of a defaced painting, he could of taken a picture of the guy who did it...that would have been helpful.

    October 7, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Michael

    Meh. It was a Rothko. Not like it was really art.

    October 7, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • LuisWu

      Exactly. Why anyone in their right mind would consider that crap art is beyond me.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • martin

      in the rarified air of the art world, your opinion (the public) doesn't really matter much. they don't need your support. if you want to enjoy art that the public can accept and understand, go see a harry potter or a james bond movie.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • mack

      Meh, just a comment by Michael about stuff he doesn't understand. Move along, folks.

      October 7, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MaxD303

    It's not about what is considered art or not it's a matter of respect. Completely disrespectful and immature. These wanna-be Banksy hipsters are such hacks.

    October 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      Personally, I think they should catch the guy and tattoo him with a description of his crimes.

      October 7, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      I completely agree with your statement MaxD303. But, Rothko's "art" is still slop.


      October 7, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. raven

    Hey, how come I dont get a facepalm?

    October 7, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Peopleweeple

    I can't make out the smeary graffiti? This moron.Have an opinion whether you like it or not, but create your own
    painting if you're so passionate in need of a statement. These people who deface stuff want the shortcut to attention
    like whining babies.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Nicky M

    No one gives a facepalm as good as me! Facepalm to everyone ... Now thank me.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bob

    Maybe they should put a "comments" section below paintings, so people can paint their comments instead of on the painting itself.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. well

    Rothko's paintings are really rich and some of my favorite from that time along with Diebenkorn, good stuff. Some of Rothko's simple color box compositions are classics forever. He is a welcome addition to any museum.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • LuisWu

      Only a mentally ill 4 year old would consider Rothko's work to be art. In fact, the so-called artwork I've seen could have been done better by a mentally ill 4 year old. Total crap.

      October 7, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      I know it's not dogs playing poker, on velvet; but it is indeed art. If you get a chance to see them in person, they will appear more detailed than the dark squares that they look like in a photograph. Rothkp had a knack for texture, layer and color these paintings are deep in all of those qualities. I do not mean any offense; but your 4 year old could not do that; understanding of those artistic qualities takes years to hone. If you don't like it, fine; but do nottake accomplishment from anyine just because you do not agree, understand, or appreciate something.

      October 7, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      I know some gentlemen who are masters at texture and layering. They painted the interior of my house a few years ago. Art without a message is nothing more than design.

      October 8, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Louise

    My opinion is that Rothko's paintings are very beautiful and calming. It's not up to LuisWu or anyone else to state their opinion as if it were fact. I have visited Rothko Chapel in Houston and loved it.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. raven

    I was just about to facepalm myself. Thanks guys.

    October 7, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bushney

    As the number of Luddites increase daily in this world, it does not make sense to have art accessible. Put them behind bulletproof glass with an interactive display screen near it.

    October 7, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      I think you mean philistines, not Luddites. Luddites hate technology, not art.

      October 7, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |

    If and when this moron is apprehended it only seems fair for a judge to sentence him to be on public exhibit for a day in a pillory so he is as defenseless against defacement as a piece of art hanging on a wall. Hopefully some graffiti artists would show up during that time.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Scott

    You can't "deface" slop. I "googled" Rothkl paintings and all that came up was a bunch of сrаp that looked like it had been "painted" by a spastic house painter.


    October 7, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Katharine

      Well, it was the 60's.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      Its fair to assume then that you have never actually engaged in a serious work of art if you do not see the genius, skill, and technique behind rothko's work. It's a shame anyone would disrespect any work of art, no matter who the artist is.

      October 8, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Probably because his name is Rothko. Rothkl (as you typed it) is a spastic house painter who lives in your area.

      October 8, 2012 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4