Saturday 21 October 2017

Tourist alleges man 'put fist through' Ireland's only Monet masterpiece

Claude Monet's Argenteuil Basin With A Single Sailboat was seriously damaged by a member of the public at the National Gallery of Ireland
Claude Monet's Argenteuil Basin With A Single Sailboat was seriously damaged by a member of the public at the National Gallery of Ireland

Jessica Magee

A tourist who witnessed a €10m Claude Monet painting being damaged said he saw the accused man “lift his fist and put it through the painting”.

Andrew Shannon (48), of Willans Way, Ongar, Dublin 15, denies causing criminal damage to the oil painting at the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin on June 29th 2012.

The gilt-framed painting, entitled Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat, dates from about 1874 and is Ireland's only work in public collection by the celebrated French impressionist.

Two tourists who travelled from New Zealand to give evidence told the jury at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that they were standing next to the Monet painting when the incident happened.

Michael Williams told Kerida Naidoo BL, prosecuting, that he felt the damage had been “quite deliberate”.

“Out of the side of my eye I saw this man lift his fist and put it through the painting. To me, it was clearly what he wanted to do,” he said.

“He said to me he was feeling faint. I grabbed him straight after the event and he had his excuse ready to go. I couldn't help but feel that it was planned,” he said.

Mr Williams said he manoeuvred the accused into the middle of the room “so he couldn't do any more damage.”

“I didn't need to support him, he didn't collapse to the floor. He sat down and stayed erect; he didn't lean forward as a person would who was feeling faint,” said Mr Williams, who said he had worked as a flight attendant.

He agreed that he was an art-lover and had been appalled by the damage that had been done.

Mr Williams' wife, Dr Toni Ashton, told the jury that Mr Shannon “seemed to appear out of nowhere” and that she saw his fist “like a hammer”.

“He seemed to lunge at the painting with quite a lot of force in the body,” she said.

Ms Ashton said Mr Shannon seemed a little disoriented and “out of it” and that he kept looking at the ground.

She said the accused told them he had a heart condition and asked for some water.

Earlier, the jury saw CCTV footage of the incident which was played over at least eight times during the course of the day.

It shows Mr Shannon entering the Millennium Wing of the National Gallery a few minutes before 11am and going up to the first floor.

He is carrying a yellow plastic bag. A yellow plastic bag discovered later at the scene by gardaí was found to contain a can of Nitromors paint stripper.

Just after 11am, Mr Shannon is captured walking into Room 10 and taking a quick look at a number of paintings.

He leaves the room for a minute, goes back in, walks around a few times and approaches the Monet painting.

He is then seen putting his right arm out in front of him and seeming to fall onto the painting before he is grabbed by a bystander.

Peter Judge, a Security Attendant at the National Gallery, said he had been patrolling several rooms housing works by the great masters when he heard “a large bang” from Room 10 followed by visitors screaming and shouting.

“I saw a gentleman standing in front of Claude Monet and I said to him, 'Jesus, what have you done?' He said, 'I want to get out of here,” and I said, 'You're not going anywhere.'”

Mr Judge said Mr Shannon started “abusing” him and telling him he was getting pains in his chest and his feet. He told the accused, “You can't just walk out of here.”

Sean Rainbird, Director of the National Gallery of Ireland, said the Monet painting had been bequeathed to the gallery in 1924 from the collection of Edward Martin.

He said it was “without doubt” a painting by Claude Monet, and was “obviously a great treasure of the collection”.

Mr Rainbird said the painting had an approximate value of €10m euro, but added that this year alone, several paintings by Monet have sold for up to US$40midollars.

The court also heard from Assistant Conservator Elline Von Monschaw, who is leading the team working to repair the painting.

She said the stamp on the back of the canvas shows that Monet bought it from a specific colourman in Paris between 1867 and 1874.

She described the tears made in the canvas as being “very sharp and harsh”.

“I presume there was quite a forceful impact on the painting, causing the fibres to break straight away rather than stretching and elongating and then breaking,” she explained.

Gda Moore agreed with Brendan Grehan SC, defending, that CCTV footage has a lower quality than a normal movie and that the quality depends on the number of stills per second.

Mr Grehan said his client has a history of heart problems, but accepts that the damage to the painting was caused by his hand.

The trial continues tomorrow before Judge Desmond Hogan and a jury of seven women and five men.

It's due to last until Friday.

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