In London, Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” sprayed with soup by eco-activists

Environmental activists from the Just Stop Oil movement threw tomato soup on Vincent van Gogh’s masterpiece ‘Sunflowers’ at the National Gallery in London on Friday. They only slightly damaged the frame of the painting. Another spectacular episode of a month of action in the British capital.

According to press images disseminated by the movement, which calls for the immediate halt to any new oil or gas project in the United Kingdom, two activists launched, on Friday October 14, the contents of two cans of tomato soup on the work of the painter Vincent van Gogh, rewarded with more than 84 million dollars.

Police were “quickly on site at the National Gallery on Friday morning after two manifestos threw a substance at a painting and then stuck to a wall,” Scotland Yard said in a statement. They were arrested, in particular for “degradation”.

The museum said two people “appeared to stick to the wall adjacent to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1888)” and also “thrown a red substance – which appeared to be tomato soup – at the painting”.

The frame suffers from “minor damage”, but the painting is “intact”, assured the National Gallery.

This new stunt by the group, which had already targeted works of art in the past, is part of a series of actions launched in early October in the British capital, during which it notably blocked roads on several occasions. .

“Life rather than art”

A video by Guardian environmental reporter Damien Gayle, widely retweeted by environmental activists, shows two young women wearing ‘Just Stop Oil’ t-shirts splashing the contents of two cans of canned soup on the artwork.

After being glued to a wall, one of them launches: “What is worth more, art or life?”. “Do you care more about protecting a painting than protecting our planet and its people?” she asked.

Human creativity and genius are on display in this museum, but our heritage is being diminished due to our government’s failure to act on the climate and the cost of living,” noted Just Stop Oil. on Twitter, explaining that the group’s approach was to “choose life over art”.

“The cost of living crisis comes from fossil fuels – everyday life has become unaffordable for millions of families who are cold and hungry – they cannot even afford a can of soup,” said said 21-year-old activist Phoebe Plummer, quoted in a statement from the movement.

“At the same time”, “people are dying” because of “fires and droughts suffered by climate change”, she argued. “We can’t afford new oil and gas projects”, they will “take everything away”.

References to suffragettes

The “Sunflowers,” on display at the National Gallery, were acquired by the museum in 1924, according to its website. In total, Van Gogh created seven versions of “Sunflowers”, five of which are exhibited in museums.

One of them, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, stressed that it was keeping a “close eye on developments” that could affect its own security measures. The Dutch specialist investigator Arthur Brand, nicknamed “the Indiana Jones of the art world”, condemned the action of Just Stop Oil.

“There are hundreds of ways to draw attention to climate issues. This shouldn’t be one of them,” he said.

Members of Just Stop Oil evoke the movement of the Suffragettes who, at the beginning of the 20th century, attacked works of art to obtain the right to vote for women.

To support five of their imprisoned comrades, members of the group dumped orange paint outside the headquarters of Scotland Yard in London on Friday and blocked traffic. Twenty-four people were arrested, police said.

Previous works vandalized

Before the “Sunflowers”, other works of art were vandalized during their exhibition in a museum. Here are some precedents:

Targeted “La Joconde”

At the end of May 2022, “La Joconde” is entared at the Louvre Museum in Paris, without consequence since it has been placed since 2005 behind armored glass. In 2009, a Russian visitor to the Louvre was arrested after throwing an empty teacup in the direction of Leonardo da Vinci’s work. The museum then explained that the cup had broken against the armored display case, which had been very slightly scratched.

Buren with cutter

In 2019, a man attacked with a cutter a work by the visual artist Daniel Buren “Painting. Manifestation 3”, exhibited at the Center Pompidou Museum in Paris.

Felt on a Delacroix

In 2013, a young woman inscribed in felt tip pen “AE911”, on Eugène Delacroix’s painting “Liberty leading the people”, exhibited at the Louvre-Lens. The inscription referred to conspiratorial theses linked to the September 11 attacks. The author justifies her gesture by her desire to “raise the level of consciousness of the people”. She received an eight-month suspended prison sentence.

Black paint on a Rothko

In 2012, at the Tate Modern in London, a painting by American Mark Rothko was vandalized with black paint by a Polish artist of Russian origin, who claimed authorship of the graffiti inscribed in a corner of the work.

Gauguin’s Damaged Tahitian Women

In 2011, a woman attacked one of Paul Gauguin’s most famous paintings, “Two Tahitian Women”, exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. After trying to take down the painting, she pummels the center of the canvas with her fist. Arrested by the security guards, she explains that she wants to destroy it because it depicts nudity and homosexuality.

Punch in a Monet

In 2007, a painting by Claude Monet, “Le pont d’Argenteuil”, was punctured by “a punch” given by several drunken young adults who broke into the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

Duchamp’s watered “Fountain”

In 2006, the “Fontaine” urinal, one of Marcel Duchamp’s emblematic works, was the target of a post-dada artist, Pierre Pinoncelli, who cut the ceramic with a hammer and affixed the word “Dada” to it. , during an exhibition at the Center Georges-Pompidou in Paris. This conceptual artist had already, in 1993, damaged Duchamp’s work with a hammer, after urinating in it.

Petrol on a Van der Helst

In 2006, a major canvas in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, “Celebration of the Peace of Munster” by Bartolomeus van der Helst, was damaged by a 69-year-old man, who doused it with lighter fluid and tried to put it in fire. The perpetrator, a 69-year-old German, had been convicted several times for the destruction in Germany of 165 works.

Yellow painting on Rembrandt

In 1998, a self-portrait by Rembrandt was smeared with yellow paint by a young man at the National Gallery in London. The rapid intervention of art experts saves the painting representing the Dutch master of the 17th century.


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