Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres “The Sistine Chapel” / scissors
In 1907, this painting was damaged while on view at the Louvre. An unemployed woman named Valentine Contrel attacked the work with a pair of scissors, repeatedly slashing through the canvas.
While Contrel turned herself in at the museum, it took her several minutes to convince the police that she had actually committed the act. Finally, she had to drag the police to the painting to get them to listen. As she later explained, “It is a shame to see so much money invested in dead things like those at the Louvre collections when so many poor devils like myself starve because they cannot find work. I have just spoiled a picture at the Louvre in order to be arrested.”
Here is Contrel’s full statement:
It is a shame to see so much money invested in dead things like those at the Louvre collections when so many poor devils like myself starve because they cannot find work. I have just spoiled a picture at the Louvre in order to be arrested. My name is Valentine Contrel, and I was born at Rouen in 1880. My parents died three years ago, leaving me penniless. I served as a governess in England, but English life did not suit me. I did dressmaking in Paris. I had to get up at four in the morning and work till midnight to earn 13 cents a day, and I could not pay my rent. I returned to my native town, but could earn my living no better there than in Paris. I came back to Paris and was determined to get “run in.” The papers lately mentioned that a man had slashed a Louvre picture. That is what I must do to avenge myself. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon I went into the Louvre. As there was a crowd in all the galleries, I waited until 4:30 when the visitors began to leave, and went to the unfrequented Ingres room, where I chose the Sistine Chapel picture because it was not under glass. I had no intention of making a demonstration against religion. With a small pair of scissors I first tried to cut the Pope’s eyes away, but the canvas was too thick, and I had to content myself with slashing the figure and several others. I had to stop several times for fear of attracting the notice of the visitors. A young woman was copying near me, but she was too intent upon her work to notice me. When I thought I had done enough damage to be arrested, I went away and came here to give myself in charge. As a matter of fact, this is not the first outrage of this kind that I have committed. Some months ago, in a room of the Jardin de Plantes museum, I smashed a glass case containing a fine butterfly, which I destroyed. I was arrested, but the police let me go out of pity for the wretched penury I was in.