A valuable avant garde painting has been vandalised by a “bored” security guard who drew eyes on faceless figures in the artwork on his first day working in a Russian gallery.
Anna Leporskaya’s Three Figures was painted between 1932 and 1934, and had been insured for 75m roubles (A$1.3m, £740,000). It was on display as part of an abstract art exhibition at the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center in Ekaterinburg when the guard drew eyes on it using a ballpoint pen.
Alexander Drozdov, the executive director of the Yeltsin Center, did not identify the security guard in a statement, but said he worked for a private security company and had been fired.
The exhibition’s curator, Anna Reshetkina, said the painting was vandalised “with a Yeltsin Center-branded pen”.
“His motives are still unknown but the administration believes it was some kind of a lapse in sanity,” she said.
“The ink has slightly penetrated into the paint layer, since the titanium white used to paint the faces is not covered with author’s varnish, as is often the case in abstract painting of that time,” Ivan Petrov wrote in the Art Newspaper, which broke the story.
“Fortunately, the vandal drew with a pen without strong pressure, and therefore the relief of the strokes as a whole was not disturbed. The left figure also had a small crumble of the paint layer up to the underlying layer on the face.”
The vandalism was first noticed on 7 December by two visitors who raised the alarm with a gallery employee. The painting was removed from the exhibition and returned to the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, which had loaned the painting.
Restoration experts at the Tretyakov have estimated that the restoration work would cost 250,000 roubles (A$4,600).
The Yeltsin Center reported the damage to police on 20 December, but Ekaterinburg’s ministry of internal affairs initially declined to press charges as the damage was deemed “insignificant”. Russian media reported that the ministry of culture later complained to the prosecutor general’s office about the lack of action, and last week police announced that they had opened an investigation. The suspect faces a fine and up to three months in prison.
The Yeltsin Center has since installed protective screens over the remaining works in the exhibition.
This is not the first time a painting has been vandalised in Russia: in 2019 a man was sentenced to two and half years in prison after attacking a painting of Ivan the Terrible in the Tretyakov, tearing it with a pole from the barrier protecting the work. The same work was also attacked in 1913 by a mentally ill man who slashed it with a knife three times.