Famous Russian painting vandalised by drunk man

The screen of a monitor showing the damaged painting, Ivan The Terrible And His Son Ivan, by Russian artist Ilya Repin at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
The screen of a monitor showing the damaged painting, Ivan The Terrible And His Son Ivan, by Russian artist Ilya Repin at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MOSCOW • In a video released by Russia's interior ministry, a 37-year-old man named Igor Podporin describes how he knocked back 100g of vodka in a cafe at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, became "overwhelmed" and then used a metal security pole to strike a valuable artwork several times.

On Monday, the venue, one of Russia's leading art galleries, announced that it would try to stop the sale of alcohol on its premises in the wake of Friday's incident that had caused serious damage to one of the country's most famous paintings.

Called Ivan The Terrible And His Son Ivan On Nov 16, 1581, the artwork depicts the Russian ruler - considered one of the cruellest in the nation's history - cradling his dying son.

It was completed by renowned Russian realist Ilya Repin in 1885 and was described by its curators on Monday as a masterpiece in the same league as the Mona Lisa by Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci.

The incident has raised awkward questions about how Russia protects its historical and cultural artefacts.

Ms Zelfira Tregulova, director of the Tretyakov, said she wants to stop the sale of alcohol on the gallery's premises and will be holding talks with the lessees of an on-site cafe and restaurant.

"As we've now understood, there were small bottles of wine or cognac in the cafe. We're going to talk to the cafe and ask them to remove them," she told a news conference.

It would be harder to persuade a separate restaurant, accessible from both the gallery and the street, to stop selling alcohol, she said.

"The incident was awful and frightening and speaks to the aggression which reigns in society," said Ms Tregulova, complaining that people were increasingly unable to distinguish between works of art and the documentation of historical facts.

Some Russian media reported that the man had gone on a rampage on Friday because he felt that the artwork did not give a true picture of what had really happened.

The Tretyakov's curator, Ms Tatyana Gorodkova, told reporters that Podporin had shouted something at the time of his attack to the effect that Ivan the Terrible did not kill his son. Some Russian historians and nationalists dispute the idea that Ivan murdered his son.

Mr Vladimir Aristarkhov, the deputy culture minister, said jail time for such attacks should be sharply increased from the current three-year maximum.

He also disclosed that Russia's museums had a shortfall of about 1,000 security guards and called for the attacker to be made an example of.

The painting, which will be protected by a bulletproof case after being restored, has never been valued. But another work by Repin was sold for more than US$7 million in 2011.

The painting was also attacked in 1913. Repin personally restored it then.

When asked if she took responsibility for the latest attack, Ms Tregulova said that the incident had been hard to stop.

The attack, which occurred just before closing time on Friday, started when Podporin reportedly got past a group of gallery staff, took one of the metal poles meant to keep the public away from the artwork and hit its glass cover several times.

"It was not possible to do anything. It was a question of seconds," she said, adding that the gallery planned to review security.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2018, with the headline 'Famous Russian painting vandalised by drunk man'. Print Edition | Subscribe