‘Just Stop Oil’ Activists Throw Soup on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers Painting

'Just Stop Oil' climate activists threw Tomato Soup over Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London.

Oct 15, 2022By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Just Stop Oil Activists
The protesters also smeared their hands in glue, and stuck them to the museum’s walls. Via Associated Press


‘Just Stop Oil’ activists attacked the painting just after 11 a.m. on Friday. Recorded footage shows two people in Just Stop Oil t-shirts opening tins and throwing the contents on the Van Gogh‘s Sunflowers masterpiece. They also glued themselves to the wall. ‘Just Stop Oil’ group wants the British government to halt new oil and gas projects.


“What is more important, life or art?” – Just Stop Oil Activists

van gogh sunflowers
Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh, 1889, via the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (left); with Rest Energy by Marina Abramovic and Ulay, 1980, via MoMA, New York (right)


The incident occurred in room 43, while two protesters screamed loudly “Oh my gosh” and threw liquid all over the painting. They wanted to show that the life is more important than art.


“What is more important, art or life?… Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting, or the protection of our planet and people?”, they screamed. Footage of the incident is posted on Twitter, by the Guardian‘s environmental correspondent Damien Gayle.


Just Stop Oil Activists
Via WRAL News


“The cost-of-living crisis is part of the cost of oil crisis”, they continued. “Fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families. As a result, they can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup.”

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After the incident, gallery staff cleared visitors from the room and called police to the scene. The two activists were arrested, as the Metropolitan Police confirms. “Specialist officers have now unglued them, and we took them into custody to a central London police station,” the force says in a statement.


Two Just Stop Oil activists are Phoebe Plummer, 21, from London, and 20-year-old Anna Holland, from Newcastle. The gallery has since confirmed the painting was not harmed, saying in a statement that after the protesters threw “what appears to be tomato soup” over the painting, “the room was cleared of visitors and police are called.”


“What is the use of art in a collapsing society?” – Just Stop Oil

Just Stop Oil, Van Gogh
Photo of a man taking a photo of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery


In recent months, climate activists have taken to museums across Europe to glue themselves to priceless works of art, in an effort to call attention to the climate crisis. Just Stop Oil has drawn attention, and criticism, for targeting artworks in museums.


In July, Just Stop Oil activists glued themselves to the frame of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, also to John Constable’s The Hay Wain in the National Gallery.


Activists have also blocked bridges and intersections across London during two weeks of protests. The protest sparked mixed reactions and plenty of anger. Sophie Wright, 43, from Surrey, initially condemned the action, but changed her mind when she learned the Van Gogh’s painting was unlikely to have been permanently damaged.


London Art Gallery
The National Gallery holds more than 2,300 artworks


“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.”


“What use is an art when we face the collapse of civil society?” Just Stop Oil posted on Twitter around the time of today’s action. “The art establishment, artists and the art-loving public need to step up into Civil Resistance if they want to live in a world where humans are around to appreciate art.”

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.