The 41-year-old man is being held at a central London police station on suspicion of causing criminal damage, London’s Metropolitan Police said. The suspect has not been named by police.
The portrait, by the Australian-born artist Ralph Heimans, is being taken down until the damage can be remedied, the abbey said in a statement.
It went on public display last month as part of the abbey’s celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the queen’s coronation.
The 9-foot by 11-foot oil painting depicts the queen in state dress, including the crimson velvet robe she wore for her coronation in 1953, in an imagined scene at night in the abbey.
According to the abbey website, it captures the queen “in a moment of solitary reflection.”
Last week, the queen and other royals attended a service at the abbey to mark 60 years since her coronation there.
There have been 38 coronations at Westminster Abbey since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066.
Westminster Abbey is also where Prince William married Catherine Middleton in 2011.