Throughout history, Britain has celebrated an illustrious career of discovering new cultures and civilizations, and then stealing all their stuff. So it's still a point of contention whether or not Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, legally acquired a collection of statues and friezes from the Parthenon in Greece, or if he just took them when no one was looking.
The British Empire was built around pointing in one direction and grabbing everything while the other guy looked away.
To his credit, when he visited Athens in the early 1800s, no one was making any effort to preserve the marble sculptures. The Acropolis was being used as a military fort, and any statues that fell were reconstituted as building material. The Parthenon had even been used as a gunpowder store a century earlier, and huge chunks of it had been destroyed during an explosion. Elgin persuaded the Ottomans to let him remove the marble works of art and ship them back to England, where they could be preserved and cared for in the British Museum until the end of time.
So What Happened?
Apparently the British Museum never accounted for awful children or general human clumsiness. Despite the statues surviving Turkish attacks, the Venetian invasion in Greece and a massive gunpowder explosion that blew the roof off the Parthenon, they were having a hard time staying in one piece in one of the best museums in the world.
We've seen Warhammer models age more gracefully.
In 1961, a couple of English kids were on a field trip from Hogwarts or wherever when they got into a fight. One of them threw the other against a centaur and broke the statue's leg. To this day it can't be fully fixed.
Then in 1981, a workman on the roof lost his balance and dropped a skylight on the head of one of the other statues. Even the works that haven't suffered accidental indignities have been vandalized and decorated with graffiti, and one statue was broken beyond repair by thieves who were trying to steal lead from its hoof.
You don't want to know what they did to the body. Although, since you use the Internet, you can probably guess.
But possibly the worst damage of all was done by the museum itself. In the 1930s, restorers tried to clean the yellow stains on each and every sculpture with steel wool to make them pure white. In the process, they removed 2.5 millimeters from the surface, which doesn't sound like a lot until you realize it destroyed the finer details on every piece in the collection.
Adam Carr, Wikipedia Commons
So we'll never know which one of these guys had the larger genitals.
Pablo Picasso had so many wives and mistresses throughout his life, we can probably assume that he would have been understanding if he knew one of his paintings was accidentally destroyed by someone thinking about love. Or, at the very least, fornication.
At 23, Picasso was still at least vaguely interested in maintaining a sense of realism in his paintings. The Actor is a 6-foot-by-4-foot portrait of a stage performer, one of the biggest paintings he completed at the time and worth over $100 million today. At least it would be, if it didn't have a 6-inch gash in it.
In Picasso's day, it was traditional for actors to wear jumpsuits made from the flesh of fallen actors.
So What Happened?
By now it should come as no surprise that museums are some of the most hazardous places to keep art. Adding another to the list, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was the scene of The Actor's destruction. A student attending an art class was examining the painting when she stumbled into The Actor, putting a long tear in the bottom right corner.
"Well, hell. Coloring it in with a pen didn't help at all."
But that's not the whole story. Just a day after the event, this message appeared on Craigslist's Close Encounters in New York:
"This was on Friday at the Met. I remember you from the elevator when we were going from the 1st floor to the 2nd floor. You were the guy wearing the red sweater... I held the door open for you and you smiled at me. I saw you again in the Cubism section. I was standing in front of The Actor painting by Picasso. You were looking at Matisse's View of Collioure and the Sea. You were standing there for a while, sketching in a brown notebook. I was about to approach you, but froze up and ended up tripping and falling into the painting leaving a small tear.
I think you left before the security got there.
If you read about this in the news the next day, I'm the girl from the elevator."
"It was a distractingly terrible sweater."
It's not clear whether the ad is real or not, but it certainly rings of sincerity ... and desperation. We can only hope that the art destroyer did finally hook up with that cubism-loving red sweater. Surely Picasso would have wanted a multimillion dollar disaster to at least culminate in a little sex.
For more ridiculous destruction, check out 7 Books We Lost to History That Would Have Changed the World and The 5 Most Horrifyingly Wasteful Film Shoots.
And stop by LinkSTORM to discover what happens when Brockway was left alone with the Mona Lisa.
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