Climate Protestors Throw Tomato Soup on Iconic van Gogh Painting
In perhaps their most controversial protest yet, two Just Stop Oil activists poured tomato soup on Vincent van Gogh’s famous “Sunflowers” painting in London’s National Gallery.
The gallery said the painting itself was not damaged because the canvass was protected by glass. The action comes as Just Stop Oil has been protesting in London for two weeks with a demand that the UK government stop all new oil and gas exploration.
“What is worth more, art or life?” 21-year-old demonstrator Phoebe Plummer said as she glued her hand to the wall below the painting. “Is it worth more than food? More than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?”
A video shared on Youtube shows Plummer and fellow activist 20-year-old Anna Holland removing their jackets in front of the painting to reveal Just Stop Oil t-shirts.
Then Plummer tosses a can of tomato soup at the painting to gasps from onlookers and a cry of “Oh my gosh.” The two women next glue their hands to the wall below the painting as Plummer gives a short speech explaining their action. The action took place at 11 a.m. local time on Friday, according to Just Stop Oil.
In addition to the climate crisis, Plummer also mentioned the energy crisis that has caused fuel costs to soar in the UK in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, putting strain on ordinary people.
“The cost of living crisis is part of the cost of oil crisis,” Plummer continued. “Fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families. They can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup.”
The protest comes as UK Prime Minister Liz Truss has responded to the energy crisis by lifting a moratorium on fracking and expanding oil and gas drilling in the North Sea. Just Stop Oil said that the government could issue more than 100 new licenses for oil and gas projects and that an October 1 energy price increase could push nearly eight million households into fuel poverty by April of next year.
“UK families will be forced to choose between heating or eating this winter, as fossil fuel companies reap record profits. But the cost of oil and gas isn’t limited to our bills. Somalia is now facing an apocalyptic famine, caused by drought and fuelled by the climate crisis. Millions are being forced to move and tens of thousands face starvation. This is the future we choose for ourselves if we push for new oil and gas,” Holland said in a statement shared by Just Stop Oil.
The two women were later arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and aggravated trespass, AP News reported.
“Specialist officers have now un-glued them and they have been taken into custody to a central London police station,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement reported by AP News.
The National Gallery said the painting itself was not damaged and had returned to its place after cleaning.
“[T]here is some minor damage to the frame but the painting is unharmed,” the gallery said.
Just Stop Oil told The Guardian that it considered the fact that the painting was protected with glass when planning the protest.
Targeting works of art has become one of the group’s more divisive direct action tactics. Just Stop Oil activists glued themselves to the frames of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” at London’s Royal Academy of Arts and John Constable’s “The Hay Wain” in the National Gallery in July, AP News pointed out.
One onlooker who did not give his name told The Guardian that he thought the protest was counterproductive.
“They may be trying to get people to think about the issues but all they end up doing is getting people really annoyed and angry,” he said.
Another witness, 43-year-old Sophie Wright, told The Guardian that she first opposed the protest but changed her mind when she learned the painting hadn’t been harmed.
“I support the cause and by the looks of it they are considered protests, with a purpose of raising awareness and shocking [people],” she said. “So long as they don’t hurt people or put people in danger, then I support them.”
Just Stop Oil spokesperson Alex De Koning said that the group had considered the backlash but thought it was worthwhile to make people think.
“We are not trying to make friends here, we are trying to make change, and unfortunately this is the way that change happens,” De Koning said.