Man held over Monet attack


A man arrested yesterday on suspicion of seriously damaging the National Gallery of Ireland’s only painting by French impressionist Claude Monet has convictions relating to the theft of collectable artefacts.

He remains in custody this evening.

A large hole was made in the 1874 painting, Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat, when a man lunged at it in the gallery between 11.30am and noon. The man then fell to the ground, telling security guards he had chest pains. He was taken to hospital by ambulance and was discharged after being assessed.

Gardaí confirmed last night a man had been arrested in connection with the attack and taken to Pearse Street station.

The incident at the gallery was captured on CCTV while a number of people in the room at the time are believed to have witnessed it. Gardaí said some of them had not yet been traced and they were asking them to contact the investigating team at Pearse Street station.

The arrested man, who is in his late 40s, is originally from Ballymun, Dublin. He has convictions in Britain relating to thefts from stately homes in which rare books, paintings and antiques were stolen.

He had travelled to Britain with an accomplice and, when caught in a private section of a stately home in Yorkshire he was found to have a walkie-talkie, which he was believed to be using to communicate with the other man. A sat-nav unit with the addresses of other stately homes was also found in his possession.

The damaged painting was bequeathed to the National Gallery by the musicologist – and one of the founders of the Abbey Theatre – Edward Martyn, along with six other works by Degas, Corot and others, in 1924.

Martyn was a cousin of George Moore. On a visit to Paris, Moore took him to art dealer Durand-Ruel’s and, according to Peter Somerville-Large, “persuaded him to buy a sparkling river scene by Claude Monet and two pastels by Edgar Degas”.

The painting is the epitome of serenity. Bathed in soft sunlight, a boat sails close to a leafy bank of the Seine, the suburban town of Argenteuil visible in outline in the distance.

National Gallery director Seán Rainbird said: “It is a shocking and very regrettable incident and I would like to praise the Garda Síochána and the NGI staff in dealing promptly with the matter.”

Market values for substantial works by Monet are now well into the tens of millions. A Water Lilies painting exceeded £40 million at auction in 2008. Smaller, less iconic works of quality are unlikely to fetch below the £10 million mark.