French Culture Minister Calls For Climate Activism Penalties

“It must stop!” said Rachida Dati after a climate activist targeted a Monet painting at the Musée d’Orsay on Saturday.

Jun 6, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
Climate activists from the group Riposte Alimentaire stage a museum protest. Source: Riposte Alimentaire.


On June 1, a climate activist targeted a Claude Monet painting at the Musée d’Orsay. The stunt, which was the latest in a string of similar acts of protest, aimed to warn museum-goers about the mounting dangers of global warming. Following Saturday’s incident, French Culture Minister Rachida Dati took to social media, calling for new legislation to deter climate activism in art museums.


Saturday’s Climate Activism Targeted Monet’s Poppy Field

Les Coquelicots by Claude Monet, 1873. Source: Musée d’Orsay.


Painted plein-air, Les Coquelicots (Poppy Field) by Claude Monet pictures two mother and child pairs walking through a field of red poppies near the artist’s home in Argenteuil, France. The sunny scene, which hangs at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, is idyllic and peaceful. It is also a current highlight of the museum’s special exhibition on Impressionism that celebrates the movement’s 200th anniversary.


On Saturday, June 1, a climate activist staged a protest targeting Les Coquelicots. The young woman defaced Les Coquelicots with a cloth poster that depicts an apocalyptic future version of Monet’s poppy field. She also glued her own hand to the gallery wall, proclaiming in French, “This nightmarish picture before us is what awaits us if no alternative is put into place.” Referring to a 2023 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—which warns of crippling heatwaves if global temperature rises by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit)—the activist continued, “At four degrees Celsius, we’re in for hell.” Her corresponding white t-shirt read “+4° L’Enfer”—French for “+4° Hell.”


Culture Minister Condemns “Destruction of Art by Delinquents”

A climate activist stuck a poster across the famous Monet poppy field at the Musée d’Orsay. Source: Riposte Alimentaire.


The Musée d’Orsay has since clarified that Les Coquelicots, which is protected by glass, was not damaged during the protest. The painting was reinstated in the exhibition shortly after the incident. The climate activist was arrested after being removed from the museum. According to a museum spokesperson, she was released from police custody soon after but is set to face criminal charges in court next month.

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Climate activism in art museums is an increasingly common phenomenon that grabs headlines and sparks controversy. French Culture Minister Rachida Dati was among many who issued a firm statement in response to Saturday’s protest. She wrote on X, “Once again, a cultural institution and a work of art are targeted by iconoclasts…. This destruction of art by delinquents cannot be justified in any way. It must stop! I contacted the [Justice Minister], for the implementation of a penal policy adapted to this new form of delinquency which attacks the most noble aspect of our cohesion: culture!”


Riposte Alimentaire’s Controversial Climate Activism

The June 1 protest at the Musée d’Orsay. Source: Riposte Alimentaire.


The climate activist who defaced Monet’s poppy field is a member of Riposte Alimentaire, French for “Food Response.” This organization stages protests focused on the issues of climate change and sustainable food production, targeting culturally significant artworks in high-profile museums. Riposte Alimentaire belongs to A22, a coalition of organizations that includes Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion. Activists associated with A22 often glue themselves to artworks or gallery walls, or splatter artworks with food or paint. While these protests attract backlash, the targeted artworks do not typically suffer lasting damage.


Saturday’s incident at the Musée d’Orsay was just the latest of many climate activism stunts in French museums. In January, two members of Riposte Alimentaire threw soup at Leonardo da Vinci’s ultra-famous Mona Lisa, which hangs behind a protective glass barrier at the Louvre. The group more recently targeted the Louvre’s newly-restored Delacroix canvas with stickers that read “resisting is vital.” In a group statement to Agence France-Presse, Riposte Alimentaire stood by its controversial methods of protest, saying, “We love art. But future artists will have nothing to paint on a burning planet.”

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.