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Vandal Sprays Unknown Chemical on Rembrandt’s “Night Watch″

April 6, 1990 GMT

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ An unemployed man, described by police as confused, sprayed Rembrandt’s famous painting ″The Night Watch″ with an unidentified chemical today, but museum officials said damage was minimal.

It was the second attack on the priceless art work in nearly 15 years, and the third this century.

Dutch Television said the spray was concentrated sulfuric acid, but museum officials would not confirm the report.

Immediately after the attack, a museum guard applied a neutralizing agent, and the damage to the 1642 masterpiece appeared limited to surface veneer, Rijksmuseum spokesman Piet van Thiel said.

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Museum guards seized the attacker and handed him over to police, according to another museum spokesman, Frans van der Avert. The painting is guarded around-the-clock by an unarmed security company worker.

Police said they did not know what prompted the attack.

Spokesman Klaas Wilting said the 31-year-old suspect was a Dutch national from The Hague, the capital of the Netherlands. The man was not identified by name in line with police policy and was being held on suspicion of vandalism.

″He is confused and not telling us anything at the moment,″ Wilting said shortly after the attack.

Barry Olshen of Toronto, Canada, said he was standing among a group of museum visitors and right next to the man, who was wearing a long, hooded tan coat.

The vandal pushed his way through the crowd to a steel barrier about two yards in front of the painting.

Suddenly he took a ″little spray pump he had been concealing in his hand″ and sprayed the painting, Olshen told The Associated Press.

The chemical dripped over an area of almost a square yard, covering it in white splotches.

The damage ″doesn’t seem to be too bad,″ Van Thiel told reporters at the national museum. He said the chemical failed to eat its way through the painting’s veneer to the delicate paint layer.

″Immediately after the attack, the guard slapped the bottle out of his hand (and) sprayed the painting with a benign chemical substance that is always there,″ Van Thiel said.

He said the painting would be taken to a secret location for restoration but would probably be on display again in about two weeks.

Van Thiel said a new veneer layer would take several months to dry, during which the painting would be kept behind glass to protect it from dust.

He said there were no plans to put the painting, which yearly attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world, behind a protective shield.

The painting has been under permanent guard since 1979, when it was put back on diplay after a four-year restoration period that followed a knife attack on Sept. 14, 1975.

A Dutch schoolmaster claiming to be on a divine mission made several deep slashes in ″The Night Watch.″ He was never tried but committed to a mental asylum, where he later committed suicide.

During World War I, an unemployed shoemaker made several knife slashes in the art work to protest his inability to find work.

″The Night Watch″ measures 12 feet by 14.5 feet and shows a gathering of 17th-century militiamen. It is believed to commemorate celebrations surrounding the 1638 visit to the Dutch capital by French Queen Maria de Medici.

It is considered a prime example of Rembrandt’s skilled handling of light and dark. Its most noteworthy artistic element is a beam of light which illuminates a richly dressed woman in the foreground.

The museum has never valued ″The Night Watch,″ which is not insured, in line with Culture Ministry policy.