Art destruction

Art destruction involves the damaging or destruction of works of art. This can happen through a natural process, an accident, or deliberate human involvement.

Natural destructionEdit

All physical works of art are slowly affected and degraded by the natural elements. Some may survive long enough to allow the slow processes of erosion to act on them. Works of art may also be destroyed by natural disasters.

  • The Great Sphinx of Giza is slowly eroding. Most experts believe it is a natural process, but some believe acid rain is accelerating the process.
  • It is estimated that tens of thousands of works of Japanese art dating as far back as the 13th century were destroyed in the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake and the ensuing firestorm that destroyed much of central Tokyo.
  • 1,400 artworks were damaged beyond repair in the November 4, 1966 floods that devastated Florence, Italy, including Cimabue's The Crucifixion.
  • Ribeira Palace destroyed during 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Inside, the 70,000-volume royal library as well as hundreds of works of art, including paintings by Titian, Rubens, and Correggio, were lost. The royal archives disappeared together with detailed historical records of explorations by Vasco da Gama and other early navigators.
  • Royal Alcazar of Madrid was destroyed by fire on the Christmas Eve of 1734 with its gallery (Velázquez, Titian, Rubens, Ribera, and others.)

Accidental destructionEdit

Many works of art have been damaged or destroyed by accident.

  • On September 2, 1998, Swissair Flight 111 crashed near Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, killing 229 people. Pablo Picasso's 1963 work Le Peintre (The Painter) had been loaded on the flight as cargo and was also destroyed.
  • In May 2004 a fire destroyed the Momart warehouse in east London. More than 50 works by abstract painter Patrick Heron and works by other artists were lost.[1]

Intentional destructionEdit

Of artwork designed to be destroyedEdit

Burning man

Many works of visual art are intended by the artist to be temporary. They may be created in media which the artist knows to be temporary, such as sand, or they may be designed specifically to be destroyed. Often the destruction takes place during a ceremony or special event highlighting the destruction. Examples of this type of art include:

Additionally, some artists destroy their own work out of lack of self confidence or to gain a fresh start. Claude Monet destroyed many of his own paintings, including 30 paintings in the water lilies series. In 1970, John Baldessari and five other artists destroyed all the paintings Baldessari had created between 1953 and 1966 in a bonfire. An artist also may limit the number and quality variation of his work to make it more scarce.

Festivals where artwork is destroyed:

  • The week-long Burning Man festival in the desert of Nevada, which began in 1986 with tens of thousands of participants who must pay a fee to attend, an entire city of art and self-expression is created. The focal point of the festival is a temple designed and built by artists. On the last day of the festival there is a ceremony known as a Temple Burn where the temple goes up in flames.[2]
  • The Semana Santa (Easter week) festival in Antigua, Guatemala, where designs made out of flowers and colored sawdust are created in the street prior to being trampled by a religious parade.
  • The burning of Zozobra during Fiestas de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico, usually during the second week of September.
  • The burning of falles in Valencia, Spain.

Of artwork not designed to be destroyedEdit

Other works of art may be destroyed without the consent of the original artist or of the local community. In other instances, works of art may destroyed by a local authority against the wishes of the outside community. Examples of this include the removal of Diego Rivera's 1934 Man at the Crossroads mural from the Rockefeller Center and the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan statues by the Taliban government. More than 14 Gustav Klimt masterpieces burned in a fire set by retreating SS forces at Immendorf Castle in May 1945[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Art world reels as losses mount". The Sydney Morning Herald. 28 March 2014. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  2. ^ "Building the Temple". Burning Man. Retrieved 2018-11-02.
  3. ^ "'Up to' $100m art lost in attacks". BBC News. 5 October 2001. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  4. ^ Emilie Blachère (13 February 2017). "Attack at the Louvre: the tourist was a terrorist". Paris Match (in French). Retrieved 2 January 2018. Investigators found bombs of aerosol paint in his bag. No doubt to blot out the masterpieces of the museum.


  • Gunnar Schmidt: Klavierzerstörungen in Kunst und Popkultur. Reimer Verlag, Berlin 2012. ISBN 978-3-496-01475-1.
  • Anne-Marie O'Connor: The Lady in Gold, the Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer ISBN 0-307-26564-1