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Letters: Safety of pictures at the National Gallery

It was prompt action and quick thinking by our gallery assistant staff – following well-established procedures – that led to the swift apprehension of the attacker who vandalised two paintings by Nicholas Poussin (Staff cuts at National Gallery 'putting art at risk', 11 August). CCTV footage of the incident shows it took 16 seconds from the start of the attack to his being detained. Our conservation staff were alerted immediately and on the scene within the hour. This ensured no lasting damage to the original paint surfaces – in fact, two paintings were back on public display within 48 hours.

The system of a gallery assistant invigilating more than one room is not – as the article seems to portray – unusual or controversial in the museum and gallery field. Most galleries in London, and across the UK, Europe and beyond, use similar systems throughout their rooms because we believe this to be a more effective and reliable means of invigilation.

The National Gallery had one-third of its rooms invigilated in this way. An extension to selected rooms has been implemented with the full approval of the National security adviser, and includes a significant investment in new technology and upgrades to existing systems. The change in the number of gallery assistants is incremental, and claims that the gallery is "halving its surveillance" are untrue. We continually monitor all security arrangements and seek feedback externally and internally.

It is important to emphasise the gallery was considering such an extension long before needing to identify savings, and that there have been no "staff cuts" as a result of this change in invigilation technique – any reduction in staff numbers is the result of staff turnover.

Dr Nicholas Penny

Director, The National Gallery © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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