Climate activists associated with the group Just Stop Oil targeted a famous 17th-century painting, “Rokeby Venus” by Diego Velázquez, on display at the National Gallery in London. The incident occurred as the activists called for the United Kingdom to cease new oil and gas projects within the country.
Using “safety hammers,” the two protesters, identified as Harrison Donnelly, 20, and Hanan, 22, breached a rope barrier to access the artwork and proceeded to damage the glass protecting the painting. They also addressed museum visitors, proclaiming concerns that millions of lives would be at risk due to the approval of new oil and gas leases.
Hanan emphasized the need for concrete actions, stating, “Women did not get the vote by voting; it is time for deeds not words. It is time to Just Stop Oil.” Donnelly echoed the sentiment, expressing dissatisfaction with the political landscape and the urgency of the climate crisis: “Politics is failing us. Politics failed women in 1914. Millions will die due to new oil and gas licenses. If we love history, if we love art, and if we love our families, we must just stop oil.”
Following their act of vandalism, the protesters took a seated position in front of the rope barrier they had crossed. Notably, “Rokeby Venus” had been attacked by suffragettes over a century ago during their campaign for women’s voting rights. The painting is estimated to be worth £72.5 million.
A spokesperson for the National Gallery confirmed that the individuals responsible for damaging the artwork were arrested and subsequently charged on suspicion of criminal damage. To ensure the safety of visitors and the artwork, the affected room was cleared, and law enforcement was called to the scene. Conservators examined the painting, and it was temporarily removed from display. The room was reopened to the public, with a different artwork, “A Dead Soldier, Italian (17th century),” replacing “Rokeby Venus.”
Just Stop Oil invoked the historical significance of the suffragettes’ actions in their press release, emphasizing the continued relevance of direct action as a means to address pressing issues. The group highlighted the parallels between the vandalism of the painting and the environmental and institutional damage caused by governments and corporations, calling for collective efforts to combat climate change.
This incident involving Just Stop Oil followed an earlier disruption by the group when they interrupted a “Les Misérables” performance in London’s West End, leading to the show’s temporary suspension. Five people were arrested by the U.K.’s Metropolitan Police on suspicion of aggravated trespass in connection with the disruption of the performance.
BREAKING: Climate cult strikes again
Just Stop Oil lunatics took hammers and attacked Rokeby Venus, painted in 1651 ($90M) in the London National Gallery pic.twitter.com/97VumWIWeg
— End Wokeness (@EndWokeness) November 6, 2023