'Bored' Security Guard Allegedly Drew Eyes on Russian Painting Worth $1.3M

The alleged actions of a "bored" security guard inside of a Russian art gallery reportedly led to about $1.3 million worth of damages.

It is alleged that the guard drew eyes with a ballpoint pen on Anna Leporskaya's Soviet-era painting Three Figures. According to the Art Newspaper Russia, which broke the story in January, the painting was from the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery and provided for the exhibition "The World as Non-Objectivity. The Birth of a New Art" on display at the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center in Yekaterinburg.

The drawing of the eyes was reportedly noticed by exhibition visitors on December 7. They informed a gallery employee of the odd sight, prompting the removal of the canvas and a meeting of the gallery's restoration council to quantify the damages.

The work was insured for 74.9 million rubles or approximately $1.3 million U.S. dollars.

"The ink has slightly penetrated into the paint layer since the titanium white used to paint the faces is not covered with author's varnish, as is often the case in abstract painting of that time," Art Newspaper Russia reported. "Fortunately, the vandal drew with a pen without strong pressure, and therefore the relief of the strokes as a whole was not disturbed. The left figure also had a small crumble of the paint layer up to the underlying layer on the face."

Paint brushes
A Russian painting from nearly a century ago was recently vandalized by an alleged security guard who worked in the same art gallery as the piece. Although the private security company guard was not identified, he was later fired, according to Russian authorities. Matthew J. Thomas/Getty

Znak reported on January 14 that the Yeltsin Center commented on the situation for the first time, saying surveillance camera footage and other information would be provided to police as part of an investigation.

The center said it did not previously comment due to an internal investigation that had already begun, in addition to interaction with law enforcement agencies and insurance companies.

"The Yeltsin Center filed a complaint with the police, but the initiation of a criminal case was denied due to the insignificant amount of damage caused to the work of art," the press service of the presidential center said.

Previously, as reported by Art Newspaper Russia, the department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation for the city conducted an inspection and concluded on December 20 that the situation did not dictate a criminal investigation, adding that the estimated 200,000 rubles' worth of damage was "insignificant."

The ministry cited no signs of a crime per Article 167 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation due to the painting not losing its "properties."

The Guardian reported that Alexander Drozdov, the executive director of the Yeltsin Center, did not identify the security guard in a statement but said that the individual who damaged the piece worked for a private security company and had been fired.

The Daily Mail reported that it was the security guard's first day on the job. According to the publication, the painting is currently being restored and any long-term damage to the painting can be eliminated.

The exhibition's curator, Anna Reshetkina, reportedly said the painting was vandalized "with a Yeltsin Center-branded pen."

"His motives are still unknown but the administration believes it was some kind of a lapse in sanity," she said.

Another piece of artwork was vandalized in Russia about three years ago, to a much greater degree when compared with the recent drawing of the eyes.

In 2019 in Russia, a man reportedly caused "serious damage" to Ilya Repin's 1885 painting, Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581, at a Moscow art gallery.