A valuable avant-garde painting of artist Anna Leporskaya's Three Figures painting, valued roughly at $1 million, was vandalized by a bored security guard who was on his first and obviously last day at work.
The 90-year-old painting was on exhibit at the Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg and was on loan from Moscow's State Tretyakov Gallery, Russia, as part of an exhibit titled "The World as Non-Objectivity: The Birth of a New Art."
The original painting had three figures with blank faces, but the bored security guard drew two pairs of eyes on the painting with a ballpoint pen.
The painting was sent to State Tretyakov Gallery a day after the incident and inspected by a restorer. The restorer stated that the damage could be repaired without permanently damaging the artwork and it would cost approximately $32,000, which is an acceptable amount compared to the painting’s $972,000 insurance value.
How are damaged paintings restored?
Art restoration is the attempt to preserve and repair architecture, paintings, drawings, sculptures, or other objects of fine and decorative art whose condition has been negatively altered.
There are various approaches to painting restoration, as each restoration process has to be carefully examined to determine which process and techniques will be best suited for the piece.
First, the painting undergoes an initial assessment to formulate an outline of the painting or work based on differing absorption of paint.
Next, infrared imaging is used to view the original drawings and losses of paint underneath the surface of a painting. Recently, technological advancements in art restoration have included cameras with fixed wavelengths to distinguish different pigments and materials.
Once an accurate picture of the original painting is in place, the next step is to find the appropriate solvent mixture to remove discolored varnish layers, if applicable.
After the identity of the varnish is determined and outer layers are removed, it can be repaired.
The cost of restoring art varies greatly depending on a piece’s condition, the extent of its damage, and the size of the work.
And then there is art restoration in Japanese style, Kintsugi, otherwise known as Kintsukuroi, is an interesting method of repairing broken Japanese pottery with gold.
What happens to the security guard and the painting next?
Alexander Drozdov, the executive director of the Yeltsin Center told Russian news outlet Tass, an unidentified 60-year-old security guard who worked for a private security company and had been fired. A full investigation was launched by the Russian Ministry of Culture and the guard could face a $534 fine and a one-year labor sentence.
The exhibition’s curator, Anna Reshetkina, said the painting was vandalized “with a Yeltsin Center-branded pen” on an Instagram post. “His motives are still unknown but the administration believes it was some kind of a lapse in sanity. 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” 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 about the incident in the Art Newspaper, which broke the story.
The Yeltsin Center has installed protective screens over Leporskaya’s remaining works in the exhibition after the incident.
This is not the first time a painting has been a victim of vandalism in Russia, a man was sentenced to two and half years in prison after tearing a painting of Ivan the Terrible with a pole from the barrier protecting the work in 2019. The same work was also attacked in 1913 by a mentally ill man who slashed it with a knife three times.
Leporskaya (1900–82) was a Soviet artist known for being the designer of the USSR pavilion at the World Exhibition in New York (1939) and the gravestone of Alexander Nevsky (1942). Her works can be found in the State Tretyakov Gallery, the Russian Museum of Decorative, Applied, and Folk Arts in Moscow, the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg, and private collections.