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National Gallery visitor attacks Gauguin painting, officials say

By Timothy R. Smith and ,

A painting at the Gauguin exhibit at the National Gallery was attacked last week by a gallery visitor, provoking considerable commotion, according to other museum visitors and gallery officials.

Screaming “This is evil,” a woman tried to pull Gauguin’s “Two Tahitian Women” from a gallery wall Friday and banged on the picture’s clear plastic covering, said Pamela Degotardi of New York, who was there.

“She was really pounding it with her fists,” Degotardi said. “It was like this weird surreal scene that one doesn’t expect at the National Gallery.”

Gallery spokeswoman Deborah Ziska said no damage to the 1899 painting was immediately apparent after the 4:45 p.m. incident. But she said a more thorough examination will be conducted Monday.

In the painting, both breasts of one woman are exposed, as is one of the second woman’s breasts.

The woman who allegedly attacked the painting was “immediately restrained and detained” by the museum’s federal protection ser­vices officers, who charged her with destruction of property and attempted theft, Ziska said in a statement.

The painting’s alleged attacker was “tackled by a guy who was visiting the gallery,” Degotardi said. She described him as a social worker from the Bronx.

Ellen Goldstein of Washington, who was visiting the exhibit with Degotardi, said she was in an adjacent room at the time and heard “screaming and shouting.”

The incident “was a scary, scary thing for everyone who was there,” Goldstein said.

The suspect in the attack, who was not identified by name, was presented in court on Saturday, according to Ziska’s statement. Details of the court appearance were not immediately available.

The painting, which measures 37 inches by 281 / 2 inches, is on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is part of a 120-piece Gauguin exhibit that opened at the National Gallery in late February. Titled “Gauguin: Maker of Myth,” it is to run through June 5.

The room that housed the painting also included 13 other Gauguin works. There was no indication of any damage to the other works there.

Ziska said she could recall no similar incident in 20 years. However, one incident of vandalism occurred in 1974, when a man ripped a wood-backed painting from its mounting and used it to smash a Renaissance-era folding chair into 30 pieces. Over a three-month period, from 1978 to 1979, an assailant used a sharp instrument to deface 25 works of art, including paintings by Henri Ma­tisse and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. A Washington Post report from the time described the damage as minor.

More recently, in 1998, two Ma­tisse paintings on loan from the National Gallery to the Capitoline Museums in Rome were damaged with a pencil.

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