US woman tries to destroy ‘evil’ Gauguin painting

2011-04-05 07:16

Washington – A woman accused of pounding on a painting by Paul Gauguin and trying to rip it from a wall at the National Gallery of Art told police the post-Impressionist artist was evil and the painting should be burned, court documents show.

Susan Burns, 53, who lives in suburban Virginia, has been charged with attempted second-degree theft and destruction of property after the attack on Friday. She was being held without bail pending a mental health hearing today.

The Gauguin painting, Two Tahitian Women, which is valued at an estimated $80 million (R538 million), was not damaged and will go back on view today, the National Gallery said in a statement. The picture is on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for an exhibit titled Gauguin: Maker of Myth.

The painting depicts two women standing next to each other, one with both breasts exposed and the other with one breast showing.

According to charging documents, an investigator told Burns her rights and asked why she had tried to remove the painting.

“I feel that Gauguin is evil. He has nudity and is bad for the children. He has two women in the painting and it’s very homosexual. I was trying to remove it. I think it should be burned,” according to the documents.

Burns also said: “I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.”

Burns’ attorney, Sharon Weathers, declined to comment yesterday.

Burns approached the painting around 4.45pm on Friday, grabbed the frame and pulled the bottom part off the wall, causing screws to fall to the floor, according to the documents. She then began banging on the middle of the painting with her fist.

Burns was quickly apprehended by the museum’s Federal Protection Service officers.

The painting was protected by a transparent plastic shield.

It was the first documented case of someone trying to deface a painting at the gallery since the 1970s, spokeswoman Deborah Ziska said. She said the gallery’s security procedures worked.

Gauguin (1848-1903), a Frenchman, first travelled to Tahiti in 1891 and was known for his erotic portraits of local women and for his moral failings, including sexual relationships with his underage models.

Burns has been arrested several times. She served six months in jail after a 2006 conviction for assault and battery on a police officer. In 2002, she was convicted of misdemeanour trespassing.

She also has been charged with disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice, vandalism and a separate assault on a police officer, but prosecutors declined to pursue those cases, Virginia court records show.

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