Vincent Van Gogh Painting Protest


On the 11th of October, 2022, two Just Stop Oil activists decided to capture the attention of the media by throwing soup at Vincent Van Goghs ‘Sunflowers’ before gluing themselves to the museum wall. They then began to shout their message to the astonished crowd before being arrested and forcibly removed from the National Gallery in London. This is not the first instance of protestors pulling such a stunt. European activists have glued themselves to dozens of famous artworks across the continent in an attempt to raise awareness of the Climate Crisis. Just Stop Oil is a UK based organization which, according to their own website, works to “ensure that the government commits to ending all new licenses and consents for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels”. These protests have begun to spark more conversation not around oil usage but whether or not this type of protest is reasonable or crossing a line.

Since the incident went worldwide the protestors have faced heavy criticism for their actions. One popular Youtube video titled “Idiots Throw Tomato Soup On Van Gogh Painting To Protest Oil” is informative of the public opinion of the matter with the commentator of the video calling the stunt “stupid” and saying “this is a crime – and does not help your cause”. When clips first went out of the incident most people couldn’t care less about what the protestors had to say and were more concerned over the wellbeing of the painting. In fact many news sources focused less on what the protestors had to say and more on reassuring the public that the painting had been protected by glass and was not harmed. Going one step further, conspiracy theories are now claiming that this was an inside job and Just Stop Oil is a puppet to the Getty Oil industry and this is merely an act for publicity. Even people who are supportive of the cause criticized the activists with one commenting on a NYT article, “Climate change is a serious enough issue on its own. No need to sensationalize it with – vandalism.”

That is not to say that no one on earth supported the protest. The Conversation published an article titled “Three arguments why Just Stop Oil was right to target Van Gogh’s Sunflowers” which (as you can tell from the title) analyzes the reasons to support the group. They stretch the issue past the climate crisis and into one of class oppression and corporate power while also reminding the reader “it was behind glass so has not be destroyed – a precious art piece should be given a million-fold to those who are actually ruining our precious planet.” Other supporters such as YouTube channel “The Canvas” voices his support of the protest saying “When serious action is needed urgently this kind of stunt can be necessary.” 

All in all, the painting was unharmed (only the frame sustained minor damage) and the activists have been arrested. The aftermath of this incident left many grappling with the issue of cultural importance vs. governmental funding/fossil fuel usage. Which is more important and does it have to be a choice between the two? These stunts will not be stopped by the negative public opinion and only time will tell if they effectively convince the government to cut back on fossil fuel usage.