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Van Gogh's Sunflowers vandalized by London protesters

October 14, 2022

Two individuals doused the famous painting with tomato soup in a publicity stunt at London's National Gallery. It is the latest in a series of crimes targeting cultural treasures in the name of environmental activism.

Two people wearing T-shirts with the words 'Just Stop Oil,' one of whom holds up an empty soup can, kneel before Vincent van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' with their hands glued to the upon which it hangs
The young soup throwers glued themselves to the gallery wall before being arrestedImage: Just Stop Oil/PA/dpa/picture alliance

Two women protesting the UK government's investments in fossil fuels vandalized Vincent van Gogh's famous painting "Sunflowers" in London's National Gallery Friday.

The individuals, aged 20 and 21, entered room 43 of the museum where each opened a can of tomato soup, which they then proceeded to throw at the painting before glueing their hands to the wall beneath it.

One of the individuals shouted a political statement after the attack.

Both women wore T-shirts bearing the words "Just Stop Oil," the name of an environmental activism group that has staged numerous attacks on artworks in recent months as well as vandalized public property and caused chaos by blocking traffic in central London.

London Metropolitan Police said officers unglued the perpetrators, who were then arrested for criminal damage and aggravated trespassing.

The National Gallery announced that the attack caused "minor damage to the frame, but the painting is unharmed." 

The painting was removed, cleaned and returned to the gallery for viewing by early afternoon.

What other artworks have been attacked?

The signed oil painting, completed in 1888 and in the National Gallery collection since 1924, has an estimated value of $84.2 million (€86.3). The oil painting, one of seven versions by the Dutch master, is mounted behind glass, which protected it in Friday's attack.

Other works targeted of late include the National Gallery's "The Hay Wain" (1821) by British artist John Constable, to which vandals affixed a reimagined version of a dystopian landscape in July; as well as van Gogh's "Peach Trees in Blossom" (1889) at London's Courtauld Gallery, when two individuals glued their hands to its frame this June.

A full-sized 16th century copy of Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" was also attacked by environmentalists at the Royal Academy (RA) in London this July. 

Members of Just Stop Oil have staged a number of protests in central London over the past several weeks, mainly blocking bridges and intersections.

Friday also saw another activist arrested after she spray painted a rotating sign at Metropolitan Police Headquarters.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley recently said he was "frustrated so many officers are being taken away from tackling issues that matter most to communities."

UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman last week bemoaned the fact that climate activists were engaging in "guerrilla tactics" sparking public "chaos and misery."

Braverman warned, "Whether you're Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain or Extinction Rebellion, you cross a line when you break the law — and that's why we'll keep putting you behind bars."

Police last Sunday said they had arrested more than 100 people during environmental protests over the weekend. 

Two young people glueing paper over 'The Hay Wain' by British painter John Constable in London's National Gallery
Just Stop Oil members also vandalized 'The Hay Wain' (1821) by John Constable earlier this year Image: CARLOS JASSO/AFP

What was said about the Van Gogh attack?

Just Stop Oil, which has drawn attention and criticism for targeting public treasures, claims it is not interested in being popular, but rather, in affecting change.

One of the individuals involved in the Friday attack shouted, "What is worth more? Art or life? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet?"

Dutch art crime investigator Arthur Brand condemned Friday's attack, saying, "There are hundreds of ways to achieve attention for climate problems. This should not be one of them."

The effectiveness of such publicity stunts also seems questionable, as the UK government continues to move forward with new licensing for North Sea oil and gas exploration despite calls from activists and climate scientists who say such activity runs counter to the government's promise to tackle climate change.

Berlin: Artworks vandalized

js/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)