The Gallery of Lost Art


Cecilia Gimenez knew she could improve the portrait of Christ. It was cracked, faded, and parts were in need of repainting. With her life-long devotion to the saviour and her deep love of art, Cecilia knew she could do it.

But Hell is full of well-meaning amateurs, and when Cecilia picked-up her brushes, and began to enthusiastically daub paint on Elias Garcia Martinez’s 19th century fresco, she destroyed the painting completely.

The once plaintive face of Jesus now resembles a child-like portrait of Fozzie Bear.

You may think that such disasters only happen to great works of art on those very rare occasions when the disgruntled public slash, hurl, or pour their disdain across canvas and construct, but you would be wrong.

Surprisingly, some of the most important and recognizable Artworks of the past 100 years have been lost, erased, stolen, allowed to decay, been censored or accidentally thrown away, and can no longer be seen in their original form.

Such devastation has been wrought on such masterpieces as:

Lucian Freud’s ‘Portrait of Francis Bacon’ (1952), considered to be one of Freud’s best early works, was stolen from a museum in Germany in 1988 and has never been recovered.

Tracey Emin’s construction ‘Everyone I have Ever Slept With 1963-1995’, which was destroyed (along with hundreds of other art works), in a warehouse fire in London’s east end, in 2004. The warehouse contained much of the famous Saatchi collection - including 40 paintings by Patrick Heron.

Graham Sutherland’s ‘Portrait of Sir Winston Churchill’ (1954) was gifted on behalf of the British public to the wartime Prime Minister on his 80th birthday. The painting proved to be an unwanted and deeply hated gift, and was destroyed (slashed and burnt) by Churchill’s wife, Lady Clementine, one year after its presentation. Clementine later said Sutherland’s painting had caused much distress to Churchill, as he felt it made him look old, stooped, tired, and posed as if sitting on the lavatory!

Frida Kahlo’s ‘The Wounded Table” (1940) was a highly personal painting that reflected Kahlo’s troubled relationship with her philandering partner, the artist Diego Rivera. The picture was star attraction at the Surrealist exhibition in 1940, and Kahlo kept it in her home until 1946, when she entrusted it to the Russian ambassador in Mexico. The last report of the painting is from 1955 at an exhibition in Warsaw, Poland. It was thought the painting was owned by a Soviet museum, but all record of the painting has vanished.

Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ (1917) was one of the first and perhaps most famous and influential pieces of Conceptual Art, which was lost shortly after its submission to the Society of Independent Artists, where it was rejected for exhibition. The work - a urinal signed “R. Mutt 1917” - is famous because of its photograph, rather than through its inclusion in any exhibition.

These and many other famous works, by the likes of de Kooning, Otto Dix, Rachel Whiteread, Picabia, Joseph Beuys and many more, are all part of the Gallery of Lost Art - a beautiful and mesmerizing virtual exhibition that reconstructs the stories behind the loss of some of the world’s best-known and influential artworks.


Produced by the Tate, in association with Channel 4, the project has been beautifully designed by digital studio ISO.

It’s the biggest virtual exhibition of its kind, and is being curated by the Tate’s Jennifer Mundy, who has said of the exhibition:

‘Art history tends to be the history of what has survived. But loss has shaped our sense of art’s history in ways that we are often not aware of.’

‘Museums normally tell stories through the objects they have in their collections. But this exhibition focuses on significant works that cannot be seen. It explores the potential of the digital realm to bring these lost artworks back to life—not as virtual replicas but through visual evidence and the stories surrounding them.’

The featured works are also supplemented with a series on new films by Tate Media with artists such as the Chapman Brothers and Michael Landy exploring the themes of loss within their own work.


Damien Smith, Creative Partner at ISO, explained the process involved in creating The Gallery of Lost Art.

‘Our first problem was how to recreate Art that no longer exists. We decided to create an online installation for visitors to undertake a form of cultural forensics. Each artwork is presented as a simple table on which key fragments of its original existence are arranged. This include original eye-witness reports, reviews, the artist’s original sketches and where available, photographs and film footage.’

‘As it could never be delivered physically, The Gallery of Lost Art is truly a product of the digital medium. We have tried to create a fully immersive experience, which allows the user to create their own path of discovery.’

‘The Gallery also runs counter to the usual conventions of the on-line experience, where everything is made available immediately, on demand, and in perpetuity. We have decided to purposely time-limit access, and will be slowly releasing new content to encourage fresh and repeat visits with the Gallery.’
This is the most incredible twist to the Gallery of Lost Art, for the site will be live for exactly one year, before it, like the artworks within, will be destroyed and lost forever.

With less than 300 days to go, and new works and information appearing daily, a trip to the the Gallery of Lost Art is not just recommended, it is essential.

Visit the Gallery of Lost Art

Paul Gallagher is a journalist and filmmaker who writes for the online compendium of politics, art and culture, Dangerous Minds.

Images: Tate/ ISO