Climate change activists throw soup at Van Gogh’s “sunflowers” painting 

Two climate change activists hurled the contents of two tins of tomato soup over Vincent van Gogh’s famous “Sunflowers” painting before kneeling to glue their hands to the gallery wall, shouting, “what is worth more, art or life?” 

The environmental activist group, Just Stop Oil, which has recently made numerous headlines due to its high-profile demonstrations, is fighting for the government to stop future licensing for the UK’s exploration, development and production of fossil fuels. The radical group, formed in April 2022, has been causing havoc in the London streets for the last couple of weeks to spread its message. 

Two protestors from the group splashed soup across Van Gogh’s iconic masterpiece worth an estimated £72.5m. The gallery said, “there is some minor damage to the frame, but the painting is unharmed.”  It was later cleaned and returned to its place in the gallery the same afternoon. 

Two Just Stop Oil protestors were arrested outside the National Gallery on October 14th. Photo: Martin Pope/Getty Images

Anna Holland, 20, and Phoebe Plummer, 21, were arrested mid-demonstration on Friday, October 14th and appeared before Westminster magistrates court the following Saturday charged with “criminal damage to the frame of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting.” 

Friday 14th October marked the 14th day of Just Stop Oil’s campaign of “continuous disruption” by the group, which has seen the demonstrators block several London roads. The campaign is expected to last for more than a month. 

Lora Johnson, 38, also appeared before the magistrates on the same Saturday, charged with criminal damage to the sign outside New Scotland Yard. 

Just Stop Oil activist appeared in court for criminal damage to the sign outside New Scotland Yard. Image: Sky News

Just Stop Oil activists have targeted other iconic works: a landscape painting by Horatio McCulloch, My Heart’s in the Highlands, located in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and a 500-year-old copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s, The Last Supper in London’s Royal Academy. 

The group has rallied supporters to join them throughout October in protests around the country. Each day in October, members meet at Downing street to “occupy Westminster”, and other demonstrations are being planned. 

October 14th’s art attack was not the first time the group targeted Van Gogh. In June, two activists glued themselves to the Peach Trees in Blossom painting at the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House in London.

One of the activists, Emily Brocklebank, 24, said:

“Art is so important, it captures history and a moment in time, but artists and the art establishment are failing us by focusing on the wrong things. We need everyone to focus on the government’s genocidal plans to allow fossil fuel companies to drill for more oil. This is one of the greatest injustices in history. We must resist.”