The Artist Birthday Series

Diego Velázquez

"Portrait of Juan de Pareja," by Diego Velázquez, 1649
“Portrait of Juan de Pareja,” by Diego Velázquez, 1649

Between 1649 and 1651, Velázquez completed the Venus Rokeby (original title was Venus at Her Mirror,) his only surviving female nude. Almost three centuries later, on March 10, 1914, the suffragette (as well as, arsonist, railway terrorist, and fascist) Mary Richardson walked into the National Gallery of London and attacked Velázquez’s canvas with a meat cleaver. Richardson left seven slashes on the painting, particularly causing damage to the area between the figure’s shoulders.However, all were successfully repaired by the National Gallery’s chief restorer Helmut Ruhemann.

The damage caused by the 1914 attack by an overzealous suffragette.
The damage caused by the 1914 attack by an overzealous suffragette wielding a hatchet.

The arrest of Mary Richardson after her attack on the painting by Velázquez, 1914.
The arrest of Mary Richardson after her attack on the painting by Velázquez, 1914.

Richardson was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, the maximum allowed for destruction of an artwork. In a statement to the Women’s Social and Political Union shortly afterwards, Richardson explained, “I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst (a friend/lover who had been arrested days earlier), who is the most beautiful character in modern history.” She added in a 1952 interview that she didn’t like “the way men visitors gaped at it all day long“.

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