On Saturday afternoon, a man took a screwdriver to Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait “Mr. and Mrs. William Hallett,” better known as “The Morning Walk,” at the National Gallery in London, leaving two long gashes in the 1785 painting. The attacker, a 63-year-old man with no fixed address named Keith Gregory, was quickly apprehended by a gallery assistant in the room, with help from members of the public, and eventually turned over to the Metropolitan Police, who placed him under arrest. On Sunday, Gregory was charged with causing criminal damage, according to the Guardian. He appeared in court today, the BBC reported, where he refused representation. He will remain in custody at least until his next court appearance, scheduled for Thursday.
“The damage was limited to two long scratches which penetrated the paint surface and the canvas support, but did not break through the canvas lining,” the National Gallery said in a statement. “The painting was removed from display and examined by the Gallery’s conservators. The process of consolidating the pigment layers in the areas affected by the scratches began immediately. The preliminary reports suggest that the damage can be repaired relatively easily and the picture should be back on the wall shortly.” A photo published by the Sun shows the damage done to the painting: two long gashes forming an X near its lower-right hand corner.
— Bendor Grosvenor PhD (@arthistorynews) March 20, 2017
A Reddit user who was apparently at the National Gallery at the time of the incident (around 2:15pm) related the sequence of events in a post. “An older man, surrounded by about 6–8 staff, was quickly taken past us. I quickly learned that he had attacked one of the paintings with a sharp implement, heard the word ‘screwdriver’ from two people,” the user wrote. “According to two people, including one of the staff I spoke to, at one point the perpetrator had claimed he had a bomb.”
The painting, which depicts the young couple William Hallett and Elizabeth Stephen — who were 21 and engaged at the time — strolling with their dog, was executed when Gainsborough’s career was at its pinnacle. He had received commissions from King George III and Queen Charlotte four years earlier, cementing his status as the most sought-after portrait painter in Britain. He died just three years later at age 61.
“It’s one of his great masterpieces: he was absolutely at the height of his powers,” Mark Bills, who runs the historic Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury, told the Guardian. “When you think of the elegant portraits of the Georgian period, that’s the one that comes to mind. … It’s a picture that I can’t imagine anybody finding offensive — what an odd thing to want to do.”
The National Gallery’s East Wing, where the incident took place, was evacuated in its immediate aftermath, but reopened to the public about two hours later. “The Morning Walk” hangs in room 34 of the National Gallery, which made a brief appearance in the James Bond film Skyfall. The painting can be seen right behind Bond (Daniel Craig), who is captivated by J.M.W. Turner’s “The Fighting Temeraire” (1839) on the opposite wall.
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