Suffragettes March 11 1914





In pursuance of the campaign of violence entered upon by the militant Suffragists, by which they claim to further the cause of “Votes for Women,” what has been described as a “deplorable act of vandalism” was perpetrated at the National Gallery yesterday morning, when a wanton attack was made on the picture known as the “Rokeby Venus” or the “Venus with the Mirror,” officially ascribed to Velasquez, which hung in Room 17 at the Gallery. The outrage was committed at a time when there were only a few visitors in the Gallery. Miss Mary Richardson, a militant whose name has been previously associated with the “advanced Policy” of the Suffragists, suddenly produced a chopper, and before anything could be done to prevent her she attacked the picture, smashing the glass and slashing the canvas. She was immediately arrested, and at Bow-street Police Court was committed for trial without bail.

It need hardly be said that the greatest care has been taken to protect the paintings in the Galleries from possible mutilation. The basement of the National Gallery has been closed for a considerable period so that all the available members of the staff might be on duty in the principal rooms upstairs, and the “Rokeby Venus” itself was for a time removed from exhibition, owing to the belief that it was marked for destruction by the militant Suffragists. Since two pictures by Constable and two by R. Wilson were skilfully damaged by a visitor on January 23 last year, special precautions have been in force. These were so thorough that on one occasion a visitor was compelled to give up a small parcel containing a 3in. by 4in. drawing by Gainsborough, which he wanted to compare with the “Watering Place” [109] by the same artist. The outrage on the “Venus” yesterday however, was so sudden and dramatic that it took everyone by surprise. It occurred at eleven o’clock in the morning, when, as has been said, there were only a few people in the room and Police-Constable Evans, who was on duty, and the attendant were a short distance away. One of the visitors was Miss Richardson who, after inspecting the picture for a few minutes, produced from somewhere about her dress an ordinary meat chopper, and proceeded to attack the canvas. It was covered with glass, which she shattered at a blow and then she drove the blade of the chopper as rapidly as she could into the canvas. It was afterwards found that there are seven great cuts in it, and part of the canvas was actually slashed out. Constable Evans dashed at the woman and seized her as she was delivering another blow at the picture, and she then made a statement, declaring that she had acted as she had done because of the arrest of Mrs. Pankhurst.

The Galleries were closed immediately, and large numbers of persons gathered at the doors from time to time seeking admission, and greatly disappointed to find the doors shut against them.

The Director of the National Gallery, Sir Charles Holroyd, and the Keeper, Mr. Hawes Turner, were at once informed of the outrage, and a meeting of the Trustees was called in the afternoon, among those present being the Marquess of Lansdowne and Earl Curzon. Lord Curzon saw the picture before the meeting, and describing it said: “The picture is very badly damaged, and it seems as if it would be difficult to repair it. It has, of course, lost heavily in value, and is altogether a sad spectacle.” The following announcement was issued later in the afternoon: “In consequence of the outrage today the Gallery will be closed to the public until further notice.” It did not open yesterday afternoon.

After the woman had been conveyed to Bow-street Police Station it was learned that she had sent a written statement, signed “Mary Richardson,” to the offices of the Women’s Social and Political Union in Kingsway. This was as follows:
I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history. I protest against the Government who are destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as are colour and outline to womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let everyone remember that such an outcry is hypocritical as long as they allow the destruction of Mrs. Pankhurst and of her beautiful living women. And until the public ceases to countenance human destruction, the stones cast against me for the destruction of this picture are in evidence against them as artistic as well as moral and political humbugs and hypocrites.

Mr. Hawes Turner, Keeper and Secretary of the National Gallery, said the picture in question was purchased in 1906 by a body of subscribers. He believed that £45,000 was the sum paid. The picture was presented to the nation, and now belonged to the Trustees and Director of the National Gallery. When he heard of the occurrence he examined the picture, and found that the glass was shattered. The canvas was damaged in seven places. There were six distinct cuts and a ragged bruise. He thought it probable that the bruise was caused by the flat side of the chopper said to have been used by the defendant
Mr. Musket – I think this is a unique picture? – Yes, quite unique. All the injuries were inflicted on the most important part of the picture – the naked flesh.
From a commercial point of view, if the matter can be referred to in those terms, what is the amount of the damage?
The Witness – To speak of the market value of a picture is a collection is misleading. It can have no market value. If the picture were offered for sale now its value would probably be affected to the extent of £10,000 or £15,000. That, however, is an opinion of my own, and I should like to be supported.
Have you hopes, in view of the cleanness of most of the cuts, that the damage may be repaired at a reasonable cost? – Yes I think the relining and the repairing of the injuries will probably cost less than £100
The defendant, upon being asked if she had any statement to make, said: “I am amazed at any Magistrate being willing to preside over this farce of trying me, as this is the tenth time I have been brought before a Magistrate in one year. You must surely see that the situation is ridiculous, and that Mr. McKenna has turned the criminal code into a comic valentine. You must surely see that you cannot administer the real letter of the law against the spirit of the new law, as manifested in a Suffragist. I wish also to state that I have great contempt for any administration which does not treat all prisoners equally. Mr. McKenna has not rearrested me under the Cat and Mouse Act as he has done other women – presumably because he is afraid of killing me by forcible feeding torture. I am not afraid of dying. Therefore, he is the greater coward. He cannot make me serve my sentences; he can only repeat the farce of releasing me or else killing me. Either way, mine is the victory.”
Mr. Hopkins – You are committed to take your trial at the Sessions, and you will not be bailed by this Court.

THE MORNING POST MARCH 13 1914 ………. National Gallery Outrage – The Damaged “Rokeby Venus” – Sentence on a Suffragist



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