A man carrying a torn painting.

The Most Absurd Reasons That Artworks Have Been Damaged, From Champagne Corks to Cornflakes

If you don't spend your days wandering from luxury yacht to luxury yacht, you might not yet be aware that some are now home to art collections. (One in particular reportedly even houses more than 800 works.) More often than not, though, it's not water that poses the greatest risk aboard, but instead the general lifestyle of luxury yacht owners—to the point that an art historian and conservator named Pandora Mather-Lees is now actually offering courses explaining "the intrinsic value of the objects on board" to crew members employed by the one percent. (Who, presumably, don't blink an eye at her €295-per-day price tag.)

Alas, art-related tragedies don't only take place off-shore. Indeed, there's an absurd array of culprits behind the tragedies that have befallen occasionally multimillion-dollar works of art—the most notable of which you can catch up on, here.

A cat named Padme.

It only took a single week into 2019 for news to break about yet another art-world casualty. This time, disaster struck when a cat named Padme, owned by the art historian Bendor Grosvenor, "launched itself" at a portrait by the 17th-century Baroque painter John Michael Wright that Grosvenor had been in the midst of restoring—a process that Padme ensured would be much lengthier when he took a leap and "land[ed] forcefully in the center of the painting with a crunch."

Cornflakes.

According to Mather-Lees, more and more rich people are bringing their art collections aboard their super yachts, which have in turn become a repeat scene of the crime. One such example was when she helped a billionaire in his attempt to restore a work by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which underwent quite the attack while at sea. "His kids had thrown their cornflakes at it over breakfast on his yacht because they thought it was scary," she told The Guardian. Things didn't stop there: According to Mather-Lees, the crew proceeded to make the damage worse by wiping the flakes off of the work, which they apparently thought was simply "some painting," not one worth millions and millions of dollars.

While Mather-Lees declined to identify the artwork of Basquiat's in question—as well as, understandably enough, its owner—none of them are exactly cheap: His 1982 painting Untitled, for example, broke records when it sold for $110.5 million in 2017. Even in that case, though, there's no denying that Basquiat's subjects are indeed often rather frightening.

A champagne cork.

Mather-Lees did not go into specifics about the multimillion-pound work in question, but the fact that it fell victim to a rogue champagne cork during a yacht crew's impromptu party should be sufficient to let your imagination run wild.

An elbow.

In 2018 the former casino mogul Steve Wynn was attempting to sell a self-portrait by Pablo Picasso, which Christie's valued at $70 million, when it reportedly came into contact with a metal extension pole that left behind "a significant hole." Considering Wynn's track record, though, that mishap was actually relatively benign, seeing as in 2006, Wynn accidentally stuck his elbow through another of Picasso's paintings, which he had just agreed to sell to the hedge fund manager Steve Cohen for $135 million. (The sale did eventually go through; Cohen even purchased the restored painting for $20 million more than he'd planned to pay for it pre-elbow.)

Art Basel Miami.

A combination of gravity and the notoriously chaotic atmosphere of the bacchanalia that is Art Basel Miami Beach caused a nearly $10,000 porcelain balloon dog to fall out of its display and onto the floor of the fair's 2016 edition, at which point it promptly shattered. Fortunately, the dog was not the work of an up-and-comer, but of the quite established Jeff Koons, whose sculptures are typically worth tens of millions—hence why he brushed the incident off. True to form as the world's second-most expensive artist, he remained unbothered: "It’s not the end of the world," Koons later said. "Worse things happen. That’s quite mild."

Selfies.

There's perhaps no greater threat to artworks than selfie-taking, which has caused enough art-related damage that Artnet News's list of most egregious selfie-induced incidents doesn't even cover it. Of the highlights, however, the woman who caused $200,000 of damage in one fell swoop at a gallery in Los Angeles in 2017. While she only bumped into one display, it was enough to cause a domino effect on an entire row of pedestals that were displaying sculptures, some of which were later pronounced "permanently damaged." (Naturally, a video of the incident quickly went viral.)

The year before that, a group of visitors to a gallery in Russia killed two birds with one stone when their attempt to take a selfie claimed not one, but two works—by none other than Salvador Dalí and Francisco Goya. (Also worth a mention: a family that damaged an 800-year-old sandstone sarcophagus by attempting to take a photo of their child inside of it.)

A shredder.

Banksy's Girl With Balloon, post-shredding, being handled at Sotheby's London Contemporary Art Evening Sale on October 5, 2018.

Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

A list of art-world mischief wouldn't be complete without Banksy. Rather than let a visitor step in, the artist did the job with one of his works himself last year by shredding his 2006 work Girl With Balloon immediately after it sold for roughly $1.4 million.

Related: A Divorced Billionaire Just Realized the Picasso Painting His Wife Left Him Is Fake