When it comes to vandalising paintings, one of the most famed cases was the 1914 attack on the Rokeby Venus in London’s National Gallery, when suffragette Mary Richardson chopped at the Velazquez masterpiece with a meat cleaver she had safety-pinned inside her dress.
“All I had to do was release the last one and take out my chopper and go…bang!” she later wrote.
Richardson – who went on to become a Fascist – was jailed for six months.
Last week a painting in China also came under attack when ‘New Top Four Most Handsome Men’ was hit with a hammer while on exhibit in the Hunanese city of Changsha.
One of the men featured – the Olympic gold medalist hurdler Liu Xiang – had his portrait damaged, according to NetEase.
Organisers of the exhibition said the unnamed assailant had acted because he was “dissatisfied” by the representation of Chinese handsomeness in the painting.
The work is by female artist Wang Junying and was completed last year after the success of an earlier group portrait of four Chinese “beauties” (actresses Fan Bingbing, Liu Yan and Chen Shu, and soprano Song Zuying).
Wang then swapped across to the men, selecting the novelist Mo Yan, the singer Li Yugang, the businessman and philanthropist Chen Guangbiao, and the hurdler Liu.
The concept of the four most handsome men goes way back in Chinese history. Originally they included the poet Song Yu; Lan Ling King, a sixth century general; and Wei Jie, a third century gentleman. The fourth was Pan Yue, another poet (also known as Pan An). The Book of Jin says that Pan was so alluring that women would crowd round to touch him. Others tossed delicacies in his direction “so when he returned, his chariot was full of fruits”.
The handsome men theme has resurfaced periodically, incorporating new candidates like senior Communist leader Zhou Enlai and opera singer Mei Lanfang.
That meant that Wang was paint ing in fertile but controversial territory. Despite its Rmb1 million ($ 161,039) price tag, netizens have been deriding her choices as arbitrary and WiC agrees that some of the selections require explanation. Arguably, Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan has a beautiful mind, for instance. But opinion will always be more divided on his looks. And even the artist may regret including Chen, whom she picked for his charitable work. Since he was asked to feature in the painting, Chen has tried to buy the New York Times in a move viewed as a publicity stunt, handing out business cards boasting of titles including the ‘Most Influential Person of China’ (see WiC222).
Wang has defended her choices as representative of “speed, charm, wisdom and soul”. But as NetEase points out, that doesn’t mean that many Chinese disagree with the man with the hammer.
Velazquez this is not…
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