Environmental activists have thrown tomato soup over Vincent van Gogh’s famous painting Sunflowers at London’s National Gallery, causing minor damage to the frame.
The Just Stop Oil campaign group on Friday posted a video showing the two activists throwing two tins of soup over the painting, before gluing themselves to a wall.
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“What is worth more, art or life?” one of the activists is heard saying. “Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?”
In a statement posted on Twitter, the National Gallery said, “There is some minor damage to the frame but the painting is unharmed”.
Responding to tweets asking whether there was glass over the painting, the gallery said Van Gogh’s creation “is glazed”.
Activists from the environmental campaign group Just Stop Oil have thrown tomato soup over the Van Gogh painting Sunflowers at the UK’s National Gallery in London 👇 pic.twitter.com/sxlcDGLej5
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) October 14, 2022
Just Stop Oil has been holding protests for the last two weeks in the United Kingdom’s capital. In a statement, it said its activists threw two cans of Heinz Tomato soup over the painting to demand the UK government halt all new oil and gas projects.
It later tweeted that the protest’s message was “Choose life over art”.
“Human creativity and brilliance is on show in this gallery, yet our heritage is being destroyed by our government’s failure to act on the climate and cost of living crisis,” the group said.
Statement from the National Gallery pic.twitter.com/DuZhTbAvbH
— National Gallery (@NationalGallery) October 14, 2022
Both activists were arrested for criminal damage and aggravated trespass.
“Specialist officers have now un-glued them and they have been taken into custody at a central London police station,” police said.
Van Gogh created seven versions of Sunflowers in total; five of them are on public display in museums and galleries across the world. One of those, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, said it was keeping “a close eye on developments” that might affect its own security measures.
The National Gallery, which houses some of the greatest collections of paintings in the world, said the Sunflowers of 1888 was one of its most popular attractions.
“It is the painting that is most often reproduced on cards, posters, mugs, tea-towels and stationery. It was also the picture that Van Gogh was most proud of,” the gallery says on its website.
The throwing of the soup by the climate activists was the latest “direct-action” stunt by environmental campaigners targeting works of art.
In May, a visitor to the Louvre in Paris tried to smash the glass protecting the world’s most famous painting of Mona Lisa before smearing cake across its surface in an apparent environment-related publicity stunt.
Experts have predicted acts of so-called “climate sabotage” will increase as extreme weather events such as droughts, wildfires and storms proliferate and the urgency to act grows.
Those in favour of say time is running out to make any meaningful change to the world’s climate trajectory.
“As climate activists, we have carried out campaigns, we carried out strikes, carried out protests and marches to call the attention of the government to address the climate crisis,” Goodness Dickson, founder of the Eco Clean Active Initiative in Abuja, Nigeria, told Al Jazeera’s The Stream show in August.
“The government have made promises without taking any action. As climate activists, we need to take a step further to push because the government is not giving ears to all our campaigns.”
But many critics are questioning the effectiveness of an escalation strategy, saying destroying property undermines the climate movement’s credibility and alienates supporters.
“Taking that course of action [climate sabotage] would likely have the exact opposite effect,” Daniel Sherrel, author of Warmth: Coming of Age at the End of the World, told The Stream from New York in the United States.
“It would be a gift to the right-wing opponents of climate action who would use it, leverage it for all its worth to accelerate their creeping fascism, make the issue politically toxic for moderate voters, arrest a generation of young climate activists and sow division in the climate movement itself.”