Comedy and Art 6 Priceless Art Gallery and Museum Errors

August 27, 2015

There’s something extremely entertaining about comedy pratfalls and blunders. It’s sad but it’s true; we love seeing people do silly things and enjoy the comedy of laughing at their misfortune. A case in point is the enduring popularity of You’ve Been Framed. No event causes quite such a sharp intake of breath however, than that of the art gallery error. Or the museum trip. The exhibition blunder. Those moments where time must stop for the poor tourist as one moment, they’re enjoying the art on display and next thing they know, they’ve become the art, clowning into a priceless painting or statue. An expensive comedy moment for the ages. Here we’ve collected six classic art errors that taken collectively equates to a quarter of a billion dollars worth of errors. But on their own? It’s the art of slapstick comedy at its finest.

Paolo Porpora – Flowers (1660)

Cost of art: $1.5million  

Humour of 12 year old tripping into it with his drink? Priceless

The inspiration for this blog post probably wouldn’t have happened at the National Gallery because drinks from fast food restaurants are banned. Hindsight is a wonderful thing for the organisers of Face of Leonardo: Images of a Genius but unfortunately it can’t help them here. A literal schoolboy error, the boy stumbles as he admires the piece of art from Paolo Porpora (Flowers is the only work signed by the artist) and falls right into it, his drinking straw tearing a hole in the canvas. Thankfully for him, he won’t be held liable for the error as the painting is insured but as one post on their Facebook page stated, “Once these works are damaged, they are permanently damaged.” Ouch.

Three Qing Dynasty Vases (1662-1722)

Cost of art: £100,000-£500,000

Humour of a man tripping on his shoelace? Priceless

From the Norman Wisdom school of comedy came Nick Flynn, a man who was enjoying a trip to the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge before his expensive error back in 2006. A rather fine venue showcasing some of the finest in Chinese art, it’s fair to say they never expected a loose shoelace to cause such despair. Having sat untouched on the window sill at the bottom of the stairs for decades, they were no match for Flynn’s 6ft, 13st frame as he turned on the staircase, tripped and smashed into the priceless works of art. He apologised for the error of his ways and thankfully noted that he was unhurt in the incident. “I think it must have been a miracle,” he stated. Hmm. We’re not sure the staff of the museum agreed, who banned him for ‘the near future’.

Pablo Picasso – The Actor (1904-1905)

Cost of art: $130 million

Humour of a lady taking an art class and falling into it? Priceless

Woah. This one no doubt caused a sharp intake of breath during the Metropolitan Museum’s art class in early 2010. Described as ‘an art enthusiast’, the poor lady tripped (when do they not?) and fell into the unusually large painting of an acrobat striking a pose. Like painting, like error. The circus that The Actor was no doubt a part of in his day would have likely found a little comedy in the incident, though MoMA obviously found none. “Fortunately, the damage did not occur in a focal point of the composition,” they wryly noted and the priceless painting went back on display a few months later, the error having been removed by restorers. Phew.

Tatiana Echeverri Fernandez – Christina (2008)

Cost of art: £6,000

Humour of a visitor falling into it? Priceless

Described as being “quite funny” by one visitor who happened to be in the room, it’s fair to say that this particular blunder blurred the line between art, comedy and accident as visitors in other rooms thought the smashed totem pole was part of Tracey Emin’s art exhibition and continued to take photos of their visit. If there is a plus to be taken from a woman walking into an expensive piece of art, it’s that the four other totem poles survived her comedic error. The Royal Academy of Arts briefly closed the gallery to attend the incident but soon reopened. Never mind, eh?

G. Morley – Unspecified (19th Century)

Cost of art: Unknown

Humour of a policeman flailing into the canvas? Priceless

When you trip and fall into a piece of art, you may think that the police will show up to take you away for your expensive error. Of course, when it’s a policeman that falls into the canvas, it makes the entire event even funnier. Part of the Queen’s private collection at St. James’s Palace, the unnamed officer, apparently inspired by comedy characters including Inspector Clouseau and the Keystone Cops, climbed on a chair to close a window. The chair buckled, he held onto a curtain that gave way and tore a ‘gaping hole’ in the canvas. Early reports suggested the painting was by George Stubbs, the Queen’s favourite artist, but the fears were soon allayed. No action was taken and the artwork was reweaved.

Pablo Picasso – La Rêve (1932)

Cost of art: $139 million

Humour of the owner putting their elbow through the painting? Priceless (well, $54 million...)

A priceless piece of art said to have been painted by Pablo Picasso in one afternoon, it coincidentally took just one afternoon in 2006 to destroy it as well. Casino magnate Steve Wynn was showing the piece of art to friends including Nora Ephron, writer of comedy films including When Harry Met Sally, when he put his elbow right through it. The day before an intended sale to Steven A. Cohen. For $139 million. A world record art sale. Whoops. Leaving a gaping hole in the left arm of the figure, the sale was cancelled and received a new valuation of $85 million. Now that’s an expensive error. It ends well for Wynn though for he went on to sell it to Wynn in 2013 for $155 million. Yes, you read that correctly. He managed to sell La Rêve for $16 million more than the price he agreed on before tearing a hole through it with his elbow. One presumes the art had been restored in the meantime.

So there you have it. Comedy and art are a natural union within entertainment but do try not to make any of these expensive art-based errors when you next hold an event in the Tate or National Portrait Gallery




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By Henry Fosdike