Brit Slashes $3 Million Father's Painting in Colorado Opera Gallery

Published May 3rd, 2018 - 11:57 GMT
(Shutterstock/ File Photo)
(Shutterstock/ File Photo)

The alleged vandal who travelled almost 10,000 miles to slash a £2.16million ($3 million) piece of art at a US gallery has been revealed as the son of the painting's owner. 

Officials in Colorado have charged Nicholas Morley, 40, with 'felony criminal mischief' after the untitled Christopher Wool painting belonging to father Harold, 74, was cut twice.

A man was caught on camera entering the Opera Gallery in Aspen, Colorado, wearing sunglasses and a cap on May 1, 2017, and was seen damaging the piece with a razor before fleeing the scene.

A warrant for Morley's arrest has now been issued by a district court judge in the area following an 11-month investigation.

Aspen Police claim Morley carried out the vandalism as part of a marathon journey from the UK, flying from London to Denver via Minneapolis under a false name, hiring a car to drive to Aspen, and then returning to Britain within just three days.  

Morley, who ran the London Marathon just two days before being charged, was previously convicted over the deaths of an elderly couple in Macedonia in 2007 after a crash in his Porsche 911 during the Gumball 3000 Rally race.

Morley, described as a 'playboy property developer' at the time, received a two-year suspended sentence for 'endangering traffic leading to death' and was allowed to return to London.

His father Harold, a dentist turned property developer, is also a rally car fan and is known as one of the oldest drivers in the sport in Barbados where he lives.  

Harold, known as ‘Doc’, moved to the Caribbean 17 years ago and married a former beauty queen.

According to US legal documents, he told police the painting, named Untitled 2004, was owned via investment company Fallowfield Ltd he runs with his son, although he later claimed his son only helped with contracts and was not a co-owner of the firm.

The Aspen Times reports Harold sent a letter to the gallery saying the painting could be 'easily restored' and he would not be pursuing an insurance claim.  

'It was only a minor incident,' he said, according to the affidavit.

'In the same vein the police investigation should be calmed down and they be quickly informed that Fallowfield are very relaxed about the whole affair since Wool is an appreciating asset and the repairs will be all but invisible,' he added. 

In a letter to Opera Gallery, he requested that staff 'play the whole affair down as over enthusiastic reporting,' the affidavit states.

'We could even put it up for sale now for $3.5m on the basis it is 'famous,'' Harold Morley wrote, according to the affidavit. 

'Since we are not making an insurance claim there is no reason why the recollection of the incident should not be eliminated as quickly as possible from staff and public.'

The documents also state he told the gallery there was 'no reason' why the incident could not be 'eliminated as quickly as possible from staff and public recollection'. 

Surveillance footage from the gallery shows a man in black jeans, a black jacket, a hat, sunglasses and a full beard, entering the building and propping the door open. 

Within a few seconds, he rushed over to the Christopher Wool painting and cut it twice. A gallery employee appears but the slasher rushed for the door, grabbing the prop on the way out.

Untitled 2004 was the sole item being sold on consignment at the time, listed for sale at $2.95 million. 

Nicholas Morley was charged, in his absence, with felony criminal mischief on Wednesday, for damage worth between $1,000 and $5,000 because it cost less than $2,500 to repair the multi million dollar painting.

'He is the person charged with directly damaging this painting,' Aspen prosecutor Don Nottingham said Wednesday night.

Aspen Police claim Morley flew to Minneapolis under the name 'Nikola Marley' but used his real passport while going through immigration.

He then took an internal flight to Denver where he rented a car from Alamo and drover off.

On May 4, 2017, he returned the vehicle and had driven it 246 miles according to the firm's records.

However, a one way trip to Aspen from Denver is around 223 miles, with police not commenting on the discrepancy and whether any alternative transport was used. 

Authorities are deciding whether to pursue extradition for Morley, who denies slashing the picture. 

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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