‘Just Stop Oil’ activists who clung to Van Gogh’s painting sentenced in London

After attack on Van Gogh factory
London imposes prison sentence on climate glue

To make their concerns more visible, climate activists are increasingly turning to unwanted forms of protest. This included two members of the group Just Stop Oil, who clung to a work by the painter Van Gogh. Both have now been found guilty by a London court.

The protest is radical, but the attention is great: climate activists have been sticking to works of art for weeks or throwing tomato soup and mashed potatoes at them. Proponents speak of a scare tactic to draw attention to the climate crisis. For opponents, on the other hand, these are acts of vandalism against the works of art, which often cost millions of euros. But the actions of groups like Just Stop Oil leave almost no one indifferent.

In London, two young people stood trial for gluing themselves to the frame of Vincent van Gogh’s painting ‘Peach Trees in Blossom’ at the Courtauld Gallery at the end of June. The damage: almost 2,000 pounds (2,300 euros) – that’s why Louis McKechnie has to go to jail for three weeks. Emily Brocklebank received the same sentence, but received a six-month suspension. She does not regret the action. “When it comes to protesting, you don’t get a stage with speeches,” the 24-year-old said in court. “Gluing creates a story that the media wants to follow.” Columnist George Monbiot agrees in the British newspaper The Guardian: “‘Serious’ protest is flatly ignored.”

Attack on “Sunflowers” sparks a global wave of protests

Where climate protectors like Brocklebank and her comrade-in-arms Louis McKechnie initially stuck to objects, they now go further. On October 23, activists from the Last Generation group poured mashed potatoes on Claude Monet’s protective glass painting ‘Grainstacks’ at the Barberini Museum in Potsdam. At the Leopold Museum in Vienna, the glass-protected painting “Death and Life” by Gustav Klimt was doused with oil. Similar attacks took place in famous museums in Rome, Melbourne and Canberra.

An action by Just Stop Oil in London’s National Gallery, in which two young women threw tomato soup at Van Gogh’s famous work ‘Sunflowers’, is regarded as the first spark. They pleaded not guilty in court and the trial for property damage will begin in the British capital on December 13. In The Hague there was already a court verdict: three men were sentenced to two months in prison – one of them conditionally – for an attack on the painting “The girl with a pearl earring” by Johannes Vermeer.

Museums and galleries worldwide are alarmed. “The activists responsible grossly underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects that must be preserved as part of our world heritage,” the heads of more than 100 art institutions said in a joint statement. But the sensational protest met with understanding.

‘Climate activists are 1000 percent right’

“The climate activists are 1000 percent right. And I support them 1000 percent,” Irish rock musician and environmentalist Bob Geldof told the Radio Times. The activists are smart not to damage the actual works. The attacks are just annoying. “And annoying is pretty good,” Geldof said. “Guardian” columnist Monbiot asked rhetorically, “Are we really more interested in Van Gogh’s sunflowers than real ones?” Also in The Guardian, Aileen Getty, granddaughter of oil magnate J. Paul Getty, praised climate activists: “Non-violence, civil resistance works.”

In London, activist Brocklebank said she was certain the owner of the painting would have agreed to the protest. “Any good person would agree to try to sustain life on Earth.” You didn’t do much damage: “Glue will come off again.” Her comrade-in-arms McKechnie said during the campaign that he and his father admired the work he was now stuck with as a child. “I still love this painting, but I love my friends and family more, I love nature more,” the 22-year-old said at the time.

Charges against a 21-year-old activist who allegedly distracted security forces have been dropped. However, he was fined for failing to appear in court, according to a PA news agency report.

(This article was first published on Tuesday, November 22, 2022.)

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