George Romney, “John Bensley Thornhill” (1784) / meat cleaver

In June 1914, this work was damaged while on view at England’s Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Bertha Ryland, a Birmingham member of the Women’s Social & Political Union, entered the gallery and attacked the painting with a meat clever which she’d hidden beneath her coat, inflicting three large gashes in the canvas. 

While it’s unclear why Ryland chose this particular painting, but Ryland had a note in her pocket explaining her actions: “I attack this work of art deliberately as a protest against the Government’s criminal injustice in denying women the vote, and also against the Government’s brutal injustice in imprisoning, forcibly feeding, and drugging Suffragist militants, while allowing Ulster militants to go free”

Ryland was arrested but ultimately not charged; the painting was eventually restored.

The incident was one in a series of attacks by British suffragettes from 1913-14 - most notably, Mary Richardson’s March 1914 attack on Velazquez’s “Rokeby Venus.” Ryland herself had previously served six months in Holloway prison in 1912 for her involvement in a London window-smashing campaign. 

Christopher Schreck