London police arrest man in Rothko defacement

A Mark Rothko painting was defaced at London's Tate Modern museum on Sunday.

Story highlights

  • British police make an arrest in Rothko defacement
  • A man painted on of the famed artist's Seagram murals on Sunday
  • The painting was hanging in London's Tate Modern museum, which was closed after the incident

A 26-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the weekend vandalism of a painting by famed artist Mark Rothko at a London museum, London's Metropolitan Police announced late Monday.

The man was arrested in Worthing, on the southern coast of England, and will be brought to London on suspicion of criminal damage, a police statement said. The man was not named.

The painting -- part of Rothko's Seagram mural series -- was hanging at London's Tate Modern museum when a man began tagging the canvas with black paint Sunday afternoon. Museum-goer Tim Wright, who witnessed the defacement and posted an image of it on Twitter, told CNN he noticed a man walk into the exhibit and thought nothing of it until he heard a "smashing sound."

"It was very surreal. It wasn't something we expected to see. One minute he sat down, and the next minute he put his foot over the barrier," Wright said. He said he and his girlfriend saw the man as he finished up the tag and then made his getaway. They stayed at the exhibit while a group of nearby women went to find museum staff.

An alarm soon went off, and the museum was evacuated. Wright said he and his girlfriend gave a description of the event to a museum employee.

"It's just not the thing you expect to see in an art gallery," Wright said. "I've never seen anything like it. It's quite shocking, actually."

Rothko, a Russian-American abstract expressionist, was commissioned to do a series of paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant of the Seagram building in New York in 1958. Though he started the series of murals, he famously reneged, deciding the swanky New York restaurant wasn't an appropriate home for his art.

Rothko rejected the commission but completed paintings stemming from the project, many of which made their way into the halls of museums. The murals arrived in London as Rothko killed himself in 1970 and have been on display at many of the Tate's locations, as well as the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Rothko's children, Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko, said in a statement that they were thankful for the support of others after the incident.

"The Rothko family is greatly troubled by yesterday's occurrence but has full confidence that the Tate Gallery will do all in its power to remedy the situation," the family said.

"Our father donated his legendary Seagram paintings to the museum in 1969 sensing the commitment of the institution to his work and impressed by the warm embrace it had received from the British public. We are heartened to have felt that embrace again in the outpouring of distress and support that we and our father have received both directly and in public forums."