Accidents happen. It’s the way of life. We have all broke an ornament, or piece of furniture or much-loved household item by accident. Or we have lost belongings to house fires, floods and other unfortunate incidents.

Now imagine that the item you just accidentally broke was actually an irreplaceable piece of art worth an eye-watering amount of money.

Over the years, there has been plenty of art disasters. From clumsy museum visitors to unfortunate fires, art disasters have been caused by all sorts of unfortunate events.

In this blog, we’re outlining some of the worst art disasters. In no particular order…

The Lost Sculpture

In 1988, American artist Richard Serra created a 38-tonne sculpture, especially for the Reina Sofia Museum. It was displayed within the ‘Referencias: Un encuentro artístico en el tiempo’ (References: An artistic encounter in time) exhibition.

Richard Serra is widely known for his large, abstract and minimalist steel sculptures. And this one was no different. It is believed that the museum paid £200,000 for the sculpture.

In 1990, the sculpture was put into storage. 15 years later, the museum director asked to have the sculpture retrieved from storage so that it could once again be displayed. However, the company storing the piece of art had gone into “receivership” in 1998 and the sculpture was nowhere to be found.

To this day, the 38-tonne sculpture has never been located. There are even rumours that it had been sold for scrap metal!

The Botched Restoration

The Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) is a fresco painted image depicting Jesus crowned with thorns. It was painted by the 19th-century artist Elías García Martínez. It is believed that the art was painted onto the wall of Sanctuary of Mercy church in Borja, Spain in 1930.

The painting was turned into an internet phenomenon in 2012 when an 82-year-old churchgoer set about “restoring” the painting.

Although she meant well and believed she had the blessing of the church’s priest, Cecilia Giménez accidentally ruined the painting. What once depicted Jesus now resembled a monkey, giving the painting a new nickname “Ecce Mono (Behold the Monkey)”.

But as the saying goes “all’s well that ends well”. The botched restoration put Borja on the map as tourists flocked from around the world to see the painting. As well as raising money for the church, the increase in tourism was incredibly beneficial for the economy of Borja.

Not The Picasso!

Pablo Picasso is one of the most famous and legendary painters of all time. So it is no surprise that his art attracts huge crowds. But more people usually means higher risks…

In 2006, the owner of the 1932 Picasso masterpiece Le Rêve, which depicted his mistress, Marie Thérèse-Walter, accidentally put his elbow through the painting. Steven Wynn had purchased the painting in 1997 for $48 million. To add insult to injury, Wynn had agreed to sell the painting to Steven A. Cohen for $139 million shortly before tearing it, which would have made it the most expensive piece of art ever.

Thankfully, the 6-inch tear was repaired (at a cost of $90,000) and in 2013 the painting was sold to Cohen for $155 million.

The Le Rêve is not the only Picasso painting to have been damaged. In 2010, a woman visiting the Met Museum in NYE lost her balance and fell into Picasso’s 1905 painting titled The Actor. The fall created a 6-inch tear in the $130 million painting.

Thankfully, the tear was not at a focal point and was restored.

Like A Bull In A China… Museum?

Back in 2006, a series of Qing Dynasty Vases, which dated from the latter years of the reign of the Kangxi emperor (1662-1722), was on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Unfortunately, a museum visitor tripped over his shoelace on a staircase and tumbled down the stairs directly into three of the vases. Smashing them to hundreds of pieces. The intricate 300-year-old vases were estimated to cost between $400,000 and $500,000.

Over a period of six months, the porcelain vases were restored and are now back on display (in a specially designed cabinet).

Down Like Dominoes

As it turns out, museum go-ers have a lot to answer for. In 2017, Simon Birch, a British-born, Hong Kong-based artist displayed a series of crowns at a museum in LA. Each crown was positioned on top of its own pedestal, which were lined up like dominos (you see where this is going right?).

When a woman crouched in front of one of the pedestals to take a selfie, she lost her balance and fell into the pedestal, triggering a domino effect that took out multiple pedestals and crowns. The tumble caused about $200,000 in damage.


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