Owning a Banksy can be a difficult feat. Purchasing a work by the illusive artist is one thing, but when a Banksy falls into your hands overnight, the path forward is exciting although filled with unique challenges – sometimes even involving theft. That’s what the University Hospital Southampton quickly realized when just days after they were gifted a black and white painting by the UK artist, someone, clad in a hazmat, tried to steal it.
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On May 6th, a canvas was left outside of a general hospital in the southern coastal city as a gift to National Health Service (NHS) workers. “Thanks for all you’re doing,” read a note from the artist accompanying the painting. “I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if it’s only black and white.” Titled Game Changer, the monochromatic painting depicts a boy playing with a nurse superhero while Batman and Spiderman, who appear to have been discarded in a bin, watch. Banksy’s painting was given to the hospital to boost the morale of NHS workers who have worked tirelessly to heal those with COVID-19 and fight the spread of the virus.
Just two days later, the painting attracted a burglar who intended to steal the painting. Wearing a hazmat suit, as so to blend in and mask their identity, the would-be thief walked into the hospital early in the morning on May 8th carrying an electric drill. According to The Sun, the man was spotted by security who then monitored him using hospital CCTV. The man appeared to be casing the painting when hospital security stepped in and removed the man. Police were not called and no charges were filed.
Had the theft not been stopped, the hospital and its staff would’ve been robbed of a source of joy that has helped NHS staff, who have been stretched incredibly thin in recent weeks, get through their shifts. The hospital would’ve also been robbed of a prospective source of income. Speculated to be worth millions, the hospital is planning to auction the work later this year to provide funding for the NHS.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that thieves have taken advantage of the pandemic. In late March, Van Gogh’s Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring, valued at £5 million, was stolen from the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam. The painting was on loan to the museum from the Groninger Museum and was stolen while the Singer Laren was closed due to COVID-19. Around the same time, two men were arrested in Paris after they attempted to steal stones from Notre Dame. Restoration at the cathedral, which burned in April 2019, had come to a halt as the French capital shutdown amid the pandemic when the men tried to capitalize on the situation. Thankfully, the men were caught in the act by police and security was ramped up at the cathedral.