John Singer Sargent RA, “Portrait of Henry James O.M.” / meat cleaver   In May 1914, this painting was attacked while on view at England’s Royal Academy. As reported by  The Daily Telegraph:  “About half-past one, when the attendance was thinning for lunch, the crash of glass was heard, and an elderly white-haired woman was seen to be hacking at the Sargent portrait with a butcher’s cleaver.”  The assailant was later identified as Mary Wood (an alias of Mary Aldham), a suffragette; as she slashed the portrait, Wood was heard to repeatedly shout, “Votes for Women!”   On site, her act was greeted by fellow visitors – who, many newspapers were keen to stress, were predominantly women – with cries of “Lynch her!” and “Turn her out!”  The Daily Sketch  reported that one visitor “pressed through the crowd, and aimed a blow at her. A man who put his arm in front of her to protect her was mobbed, and his glasses were knocked off and smashed.” According to  The Daily Telegraph , this man, deemed a suffragette apologist, ‘was seized, amid cheers and groans, and his silk hat was sent flying.“  For her part, Wood later wrote, “I have tried to destroy a valuable picture because I wish to show the public that they have no security for their property nor for their art treasures until women are given the political freedom.” 

John Singer Sargent RA, “Portrait of Henry James O.M.” / meat cleaver

In May 1914, this painting was attacked while on view at England’s Royal Academy. As reported by The Daily Telegraph: “About half-past one, when the attendance was thinning for lunch, the crash of glass was heard, and an elderly white-haired woman was seen to be hacking at the Sargent portrait with a butcher’s cleaver.”

The assailant was later identified as Mary Wood (an alias of Mary Aldham), a suffragette; as she slashed the portrait, Wood was heard to repeatedly shout, “Votes for Women!” 

On site, her act was greeted by fellow visitors – who, many newspapers were keen to stress, were predominantly women – with cries of “Lynch her!” and “Turn her out!” The Daily Sketch reported that one visitor “pressed through the crowd, and aimed a blow at her. A man who put his arm in front of her to protect her was mobbed, and his glasses were knocked off and smashed.” According to The Daily Telegraph, this man, deemed a suffragette apologist, ‘was seized, amid cheers and groans, and his silk hat was sent flying.“

For her part, Wood later wrote, “I have tried to destroy a valuable picture because I wish to show the public that they have no security for their property nor for their art treasures until women are given the political freedom.” 

Christopher Schreck