March 10, 2014

100 years ago today, a suffragette attacked this Velázquez painting with a meat cleaver.

"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, who is the most beautiful character in modern history," said Mary Richardson, after hacking 7 deep cuts into  the "Rokeby Venus" — AKA "The Toilet of Venus," "Venus at her Mirror," "Venus and Cupid," or "La Venus del espejo."



The suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst had been arrested the previous day. Richardson got a 6-month sentence (the most that could be given for vandalizing artwork. In a much later interview — in 1952 — she said she didn't like "the way men visitors gaped at [the painting] all day long."
Contemporary reports of the incident reveal that the picture was not widely seen as mere artwork. Journalists tended to assess the attack in terms of a murder (Richardson was nicknamed "Slasher Mary"), and used words that conjured wounds inflicted on an actual female body, rather than on a pictorial representation of a female body. The Times, in an article that contained factual inaccuracies as to the painting's provenance, described a "cruel wound in the neck", as well as incisions to the shoulders and back.
Here's how it looked:



Here's the full text of Richardson's statement:
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, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas. Mrs. Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let every one remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs. Pankhurst and other beautiful living women, and that until the public cease to countenance human destruction the stones cast against me for the destruction of this picture are each an evidence against them of artistic as well as moral and political humbug and hypocrisy.
From the same link, this a description of the attack from the London Times, March 11, 1914:
Miss Richardson, who was released under the "Cat and Mouse Act" in October last and has not since been rearrested, visited the National Gallery about 11 o’clock yesterday morning. She is a small woman, and was attired in a tight-fitting grey coat and skirt. She stood in front of the Rokeby Venus for some moments, apparently in contemplation of it. There was nothing in her appearance or demeanour to arouse the suspicions of the uniformed attendant and a police constable who were on duty in the room and were standing within seven or eight yards of her. The first thought of the attendant, when he heard the smashing of glass, was that the skylight had been broken; but a moment later he saw the woman hacking furiously at the picture with a chopper which, it is assumed, she had concealed under her jacket. He ran towards her, but he was retarded somewhat by the polished and slippery floor. The constable reached the woman first and seizing her by the right arm prevented her from doing further mischief. She allowed herself to be led quietly away to the inspectors’ office. Addressing a few visitors to the Gallery who had meanwhile collected, she said, "Yes, I am a suffragette. You can get another picture, but you cannot get a life, as they are killing Mrs. Pankhurst.
The "Cat and Mouse Act" is explained here, where you can see this poster:



Years ago, in Amsterdam, when I traveled — like Bill Griffith — with a sketchbook instead of a camera, I encountered a ceramic version of that poster at that Cat Museum:

Amsterdam Notebook

ADDED: That 6-month sentence makes me want to do another one of my parodies of "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll."
In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level...
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
Mary Richardson with a six-month sentence
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears
You know, you can't get another Velázquez painting any more than you can get another Mrs. Pankhurst. If you can "get another picture," you can get another woman. Ah, but can you get a woman that makes accurate analogies? These women are rare, though not as rare as Velázquez paintings.

30 comments:

RecChief said...

I thought this was the most beautiful woman in history

mccullough said...

Her kind has always been with us and always will be.

Ann Althouse said...

I think it's strange that the "most beautiful woman" should have her face turned away from us (though it is visible in the mirror).

Many women look like this from the back.

RecChief said...

it's blurry in the mirror. or is it just me?

n.n said...

Many women look like this from the back

Perhaps that is the point. The comparable physical beauty of women, as opposed to the individual woman.

until the public cease to countenance human destruction

Huh. Early in its incarnation, feminism was not pro-choice.

you can't get another Velázquez painting any more than you can get another Mrs. Pankhurst

Well, not without suffering mental anguish, anyway. You can, however, get a replica which satisfies the quotas.

furious_a said...

I always preferred Botticelli's "Venus on the Half-Shell", especially as interpreted by Uma Thurman.

The Crack Emcee said...

I much prefer the photo with the knife scars in it,...

tim maguire said...

You don't get to care about your thing unless you first care about my thing!

--Mary Richardson, the world's first internet troll.

Alex said...

Mary Richardson, Inga's spiritual mom.

jacksonjay said...

One thing for certain, that ain't Lena Dunham!

William said...

In 1918, you had to go to a museum to see a picture of a naked woman. And she wanted to deprive men of even that meager allotment of nudity.......In one hundred years, food, clothing, and pictures of naked women have become cheaper, better, and within reach of all. Life has gotten better.

Fernandinande said...

Her kind has always been with us and always will be.

Wikipedia:
"[Mary] Richardson like a number of middle- and upper-class suffragettes turned to fascism. She became the head of the Women's section of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Two other prominent suffragette leaders to gain high office in the BUF were Norah Elam and Commandant Mary Allen."

Thugs and goon squads.

RecChief said...

Fernandinande said...
Her kind has always been with us and always will be.

Wikipedia:
"[Mary] Richardson like a number of middle- and upper-class suffragettes turned to fascism. She became the head of the Women's section of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Two other prominent suffragette leaders to gain high office in the BUF were Norah Elam and Commandant Mary Allen."


As Alex said, Inga's (Madisonma'am's) spirtual mom

SGT Ted said...

Feminist radicals have always been intolerant haters.

That's the lesson.

CWJ said...

RecChief @ 11:17

I vote for Cecilia Gallerani. The subject of Leonardo's "Lady with an Ermine."

Never been a Velazquez fan. But to be fair, his work doesn't represent well other than in person.

n.n said...

William:

They were nude depictions. There was no graphic depiction of genitals. The focus, with rare exceptions, was on form rather than function, implied (i.e. soft pornography) or explicit (hard pornography).

gerry said...

Wikipedia:
"[Mary] Richardson like a number of middle- and upper-class suffragettes turned to fascism. She became the head of the Women's section of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Two other prominent suffragette leaders to gain high office in the BUF were Norah Elam and Commandant Mary Allen."


Wow. Real feminazis.

MadisonMan said...

How very callipygian.

Julie C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
paul a'barge said...

Suffrage was a huge, huge historical blunder.

You can trace a bright and straight line from Suffrage and virtually every problem we have today.

Including Feminism.

furious_a said...

I think it's strange that the "most beautiful woman" should have her face turned away from us

Mystery, which draws the viewer into the painting.

Gahrie said...

Suffrage was a huge, huge historical blunder

Amen brother.

We then compounded it during WW II with the whole Rosie the Riveter thing.

David said...

So what does that painting do to young girls? It going to create body issues. They are going to hack themselves with cleavers maybe to get that amazing hip curve.

It's worse than Barbie. Pretending to be art too. The shame. The shame.

David said...

paul a'barge said...
Suffrage was a huge, huge historical blunder.

You can trace a bright and straight line from Suffrage and virtually every problem we have today.


Sorry, but the 16th and 17th Amendments beat that hands down. No contest.

David said...

"many women look like this from the back"

Hardly.

I realize my sample may be more limited than yours, but my perspective is different.

Anglelyne said...

paul a'barge: Suffrage was a huge, huge historical blunder.

You can trace a bright and straight line from Suffrage and virtually every problem we have today.


I'll say. Suffrage has never worked for long periods for anybody. (Well, maybe the Swiss.) Some say the rot started with the Jacksonian reforms here, or the first Reform Act back in the old country, but I say it goes deeper still. Give a man a vote, and be his pockets empty or overflowing, he'll soon turn it to transferring the contents of his neighbor's pocket into his own.

Stephen A. Meigs said...

Cool poster. Female cats probably often tend to release their prey temporarily to make sure male cats about aren't in any way trying to force them to kill; or alternatively, that's what the female cats might be playing. It seldom is about actually changing the mind, because female cats are very hesitant to start torturing what they aren't quite sure they want to kill.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

So is the picture as shown the way it looks now? 'A rose is a rose.' If Dove soap paid for a painting should she have destroyed the shelves of Dove soap. Does Ta-Nehisi-Coates or a cat think she is 'the most beautiful woman in the wold.' Did Picasso? Does Andrew Sullivan? The suffragette knew though that a good man is hard to find. I suppose she was protesting that.

Sam L. said...

Men never looked at her like they looked at the painting, I betcha.

n.n said...

paul a'barge:

The problem occurs when reactive movements are incorporated for profit. They are exacerbated by introducing long-lived, discriminatory policies enforced by government. This is a progressive problem which is particularly acute in a democratic system.

Feminists had their legitimate grievances. Surely less than the black Americans, but legitimate nonetheless. Both were reactive movements, which should have shortly disbarred or changed their selective character.