An iconic English painting, The Morning Walk, by Sir Thomas Gainsborough has been vandalised by a visitor to the National gallery in London. Members of the public and staff restrained a man who scratched the work, with a sharp object causing surface damage to the masterpiece.
Experts at the gallery said the scratches had ‘penetrated the paint layers but not torn through the canvas’.
London’s Metropolitan Police stated that Keith Gregory, 63, of no fixed address, had been charged over the attack. The Museum said a visitor had allegedly attacked the painting in room 34 of the east wing with a sharp instrument at about 14:15 GMT on Saturday. Museum Conservators will now look into how best to restore the painting.
The east wing of the gallery was evacuated yesterday and closed for two hours. The 1785 painting, officially titled Mr and Mrs William Hallett, was taken off of the display. “The damage is limited to two long scratches which have penetrated the paint layers, but not the supporting canvas,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
A member of the public gave a first-hand account of the attack on Reddit, “One of the staff shouted at everyone to move aside. An older man, surrounded by about 6-8 staff, was quickly taken past us.” The visitor witnessed the alleged attacker and thought he had used a screwdriver to damage the painting.
The National Gallery describes the oil on canvas as, “ ‘The Morning Walk’ by Thomas Gainsborough which shows an elegant young couple strolling through a woodland landscape, an attentive dog at the lady’s heel. William Hallett and Elizabeth Stephen were both aged 21 and due to be married in the summer of 1785, shortly after the painting was completed.
Portraits of wealthy sitters posed in a natural setting and dressed in their finest (but not necessarily most practical) clothes were a popular status symbol.
William is in a black, silk velvet frock-suit. His apparent carelessness is actually a studied pose. The undone jacket and with one hand tucked into it is a stance seen in many fashionable 18th-centry informal portraits (known as conversation pieces). ‘John Plampin’, also by Gainsborough does the same.
Elizabeth is in a dress of ivory silk – perhaps her wedding dress – caught at the waist with a black silk band. A frilled muslin kerchief covers her breast, with a knot of grape-green ribbon under it.
The light, feathery brushstrokes used to describe the landscape are typical of Gainsborough’s late style. William’s hair and Elizabeth’s gauzy shawl almost blend into the landscape they walk through.”
A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said that Keith Gregory was charged on Sunday with causing criminal damage to a painting at the National Gallery. He has been remanded in custody to appear at Westminster Magistrates Court on Monday.