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. petros

    Rothkos' work is pleasant to view. In my opinion he found one underlying theme that worked and rarely strayed. He may be over-rated, but art is in the eye of the beholder. If a vandal was able to get near the art so easily, the gallery needs to get serious about protecting valuable art in their care.

    October 7, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jackie Treehorn

    The graffiti is actually better than the painting! Late Bulldada school, I believe.

    October 7, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. dazzle ©

    I'm not a fan of Rothko but tagging is becoming all too common in Europe. Seeing what one perceives as a work of art marred with graffiti is sickening. I was appalled while in France to see the old Hausmann inspired buildings tagged. If you go to the 20th arrondisement in Paris, you would think you were in Africa. When I stepped out of the Metro to go onto the street, I knew it was bad and I skipped plans to tour some places and immediately went back underground to get the heck out of there.

    October 7, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. seyedibar

    If this jerk had a message, he could have at least written in a language people could read.

    October 8, 2012 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Stopthemadness

      Yeah because everyone in europe is supposed to speak english. Man you give humans a bad reputation with your less than puppy dog intellect.

      October 8, 2012 at 5:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Neil

      English is the official language of the world. Plus they were in England. Foreigners with thirt odd unknown languages should learn to speak correctly.

      October 8, 2012 at 6:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Pittcat90

      It is in English, you moron. After the person's name, it says "A potential piece of [last word difficult to read]." The real key, though, is the language really isn't important, the acto fo vandalism is, idiot.

      October 8, 2012 at 7:14 am | Report abuse |
    • seyedibar

      LOL! Your comments might be relevant if any one of you even knew what it said.

      October 8, 2012 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  5. TomasUli

    He had time to snap a photo, but couldn't follow that individual from a safe distance and alert a security guard?

    October 8, 2012 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
  6. GrowUp

    How can they tell it was defaced??

    October 8, 2012 at 1:54 am | Report abuse |
    • please grow up

      I agree. Funny stuff. Seriously though . . .

      October 8, 2012 at 6:19 am | Report abuse |
  7. Adam Allen

    nice to see the idiot witnesses were to busy taking pictures with their stupid phones to oh i don't know STOP THE GUY DOING IT??

    October 8, 2012 at 2:00 am | Report abuse |
  8. Darkguardian1314

    This is happening with alarming frequency. Some vandals are artists doing it as their version of art by defacing other paintings. It's a shame that society had degenerated to such a new low.

    October 8, 2012 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      See last week's "South Park" for an exploration of how low we've sunk.

      October 8, 2012 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
  9. Nancy

    Why doesn't the article tell us what the "tag" says? One can barely read it.

    October 8, 2012 at 2:33 am | Report abuse |
  10. Chris

    No doubt Tate will spend millions returning the piece back to its previous form. And what for? Rothko's probably the most dull expressionist painters in Tate modern.

    October 8, 2012 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
  11. cavepainter

    So according to BBC it says "Vladimir Umanets, A Potential Piece of Yellowism."
    Looking up "yellowism" on google takes you to a blogspot page called Yellowism (amazing, I know) that offers a definition of yellowism and clams to be written, in part, by Vladimir Umanets.

    October 8, 2012 at 5:28 am | Report abuse |
  12. epona41

    OMG... it's more interesting with the tag.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:32 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dave

    It is hard to read from that picture, but I think it says "Look at me I am more important than anyone else."

    October 8, 2012 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
  14. Norm

    Still better than any of the vandalism Banksy calls 'art'.

    October 8, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  15. Freddie the Fez

    Ahhh, the intellect of most CNN trolls: "I don't understand it, so I hate it and I mock whatever tragedy has befallen that which I hate."

    October 8, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
    • GAW

      Well I guess this is there they practice their trolling skills.

      October 8, 2012 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
    • GrowUp

      @Freddie the "intellect": Snooze.

      October 8, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
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