This Is What Happens When You Damage Priceless Art

When I was 16, my French class was fortunate enough to visit France. We immediately went to the Louvre upon arrival in Paris, but I was so wiped out by jet lag, I sat down and fell asleep. The spot I had chosen, however, was actually an ancient work of art. Here’s what would have happened had I broken it.

It’s a nightmare scenario. You wander through a gallery of gorgeous artwork only to trip and accidentally punch a hole through a priceless painting. It actually does happen. In fact, a 12-year-old boy did just that to a 350-year-old painting by Paolo Porpora worth $1.5 million a couple years back. So, did the boy get trouble? Does he owe money to the museum for the rest of his life?

According to Colin Quinn, director of claims at AXA Art Americas Corporation, someone in that position usually walks free. Quinn tells Artsy that art like that is always heavily insured, and, because you’re considered an invitee to the premise, the piece will be covered. Museums and galleries usually take reasonable measures to avoid accidents like that, but it’s not the end of the world when they happen. An insurance rep comes to look at the damage, checks to make sure it wasn’t intentional (usually by looking at security footage), then obtains a proposal for the piece to be repaired.

That said, they may have you write down your name, address, phone number, and other information before you leave in case they need to reach out to you later. Also, if you damage a piece on purpose, it’s a very different outcome. You will be forced to pay for the repairs or cover its total value, and you might face criminal charges.

So, had I broken that Egyptian stone thing I napped on in the Louvre-which, I’m sorry, looked like a bench in my exhaustion-I probably would have been fine. I just have to live with the embarrassing memory of waking up to a crowd of staring museum goers.

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