Picasso painting vandal who was “seeking fame” is jailed for 18 months

The Inner London Crown Court has jailed a student for vandalising a renowned Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) painting at the Tate Modern art gallery. The painting had been worth £20 million when the shocking incident took place on 28 December 2019.  

Shakeel Massey, a 20-year old Spanish architecture student, smuggled padlocks into the museum which he used to smash through the protective glass. To the horror of nearby visitors, the student then attacked ‘Bust of a Woman’ by Picasso and dragged it from the wall.  

Prosecutor Ben Edwards described how Massey “dropped his coat on the floor and rushed towards the painting, punching the artwork and causing the protective glass to smash and ripping the painting in the middle.” Security staff managed to detain Massey at the scene, who claimed his actions were part of “a performance“. 

A spokesperson for Tate announced shortly afterwards that “the work of art is with our conservation team for expert assessment.” It will now take conservators up to 18 months and cost up to £350,000 to repair the damage to the artwork, which was originally painted in 1944.  

He did what he did foolishly for five minutes of fame, and he has brought shame on the family,” Glen Harris, Massey’s barrister, told the court. “He was an immature artist making a point of who knows what. It’s really unjustifiable.” 

On Tuesday 26 August,  Judge Donne RD QC sentenced Massey to 18 months in prison to deter others from committing similar acts of malicious behaviour.   

It is difficult to conclude anything other than this offence was committed for the purpose of notoriety”, supposed Judge Donne. “Apart from the fact you are just 20, I have no evidence before me that you were particularly naïve or particularly immature. There is nothing to suggest you were anything other than a 20-year-old seeking fame.” 

Picasso painted ‘Bust of a Woman’ in his studio at Rue des Grands-Augustin during the final months of Nazi Occupation in France. The artist depicted the French photographer Dora Maar in his typical semi-abstract style, but used brighter colours than his other wartime works. Picasso’s painting captured the complicated mix of terror and hope that overwhelmed those living through the war, which would eventually lead him to join the French Communist Party later that year.  

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