Mark Rothko 'Black on Maroon' Restored After Tate Gallery Vandalism

First Successful Effort To Strip Graffiti Ink Off Painting

getty images

By Belinda Goldsmith

Published May 13, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

(Reuters) — A Mark Rothko painting vandalised at London’s Tate Modern gallery 18 months ago went back on public view on Tuesday after the first-ever effort to strip graffiti ink off a major artwork without damaging the layers of paintwork.

Rothko’s “Black on Maroon” was attacked in October 2012 by an aspiring artist who scrawled “Vladimir Umanets ‘12, A Potential Piece of Yellowism” in a lower corner. One of the Seagram Murals commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant in 1958, the painting was valued at five million to nine million pounds by Sotheby’s. Rothko donated it to the Tate in 1970.

A Polish national called Wlodzimierz Umaniec, also known as Vladimir Umanets, claimed the graffiti was a creative act to promote his artistic movement, Yellowism. He ended up pleading guilty to criminal damage and was jailed for two years in December 2012.

Conservationists at the Tate Modern, one of the world’s most popular galleries, said Rothko paintings were notoriously difficult to restore because of their complex paintwork, which is made up of layers of oils, pigments, resins, glues and egg.

A team of three conservationists and scientists spent nine months researching and testing about 80 solvents, six months removing the ink, and three months restoring the surface.

“No one had ever used graffiti ink that is designed to be permanent to damage a painting before and we knew how delicate the paint surface was,” Patricia Smithen, head of conservation, told Reuters in front of the re-hung artwork. “We hope the work we did on this painting will contribute to the conservation world in the future.”

Tate Director Nicholas Serota said the project had been far more successful than anyone dared hope at the outset, recalling the sickening feeling on being told of the attack.

The Tate Modern dedicates a room to Rothko, who is considered one of the 20th century’s most important artists. His Seagram Murals were a shift from his earlier use of bright, intense colors for dark maroons, reds and black.

Serota said security was reviewed after the attack but gave no details. He also brushed aside questions about the cost of restoration or how it affected the artwork’s value. At Umaniec’s trial, prosecution lawyer Gregor McKinley told the court the restoration would cost about 200,000 pounds ($320,000).

“I have no idea what the value of the painting is and we are never going to sell it,” Serota told a news conference.

Umaniec has apologised for his actions, saying he now realised this had not helped his movement, Yellowism, whose manifesto states it is “not art or anti-art”.

“I apologise to the British people for what I did. I suppose I wanted to change the art world … but of course I did it in a very, very wrong way,” he said in a video statement.

“I spent almost a year and a half in prison and the British people have paid huge restoration costs, so it definitely wasn’t worth doing it. Probably the only good thing is that the art world has received a very strong message that something must be fundamentally changed about its process of restoration.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.