Environmental Protestors Deface Protective Glass of Velazquez Masterpiece at National Gallery

by Chloe Baker
Just Stop Oil protest

On Monday, authorities detained two environmental protestors after they defaced the protective covering of Diego Velázquez’s esteemed painting in the National Gallery in London, according to the police report.

Members of the climate advocacy organization Just Stop Oil wielded miniature hammers to attack the glass safeguarding Velázquez’s “The Toilet of Venus,” widely known as “The Rokeby Venus.” The resulting damage left the glass with multiple fractures, as captured in photographs.

The protest by Just Stop Oil, which has a history of staging demonstrations at art venues and government buildings, was a call to action for the cessation of new fossil fuel project approvals in the United Kingdom.

On the day of the incident, Just Stop Oil explained that the choice to target the iconic 17th-century painting by Velázquez, renowned for its artistry, was symbolic—echoing its defacement during the women’s suffrage movement in 1914.

Proclaiming their message to onlookers, the activists from Just Stop Oil stated, “It is time for deeds, not words,” drawing a parallel to the historical acts of defiance by women who were denied voting rights.

They continued to critique the political system’s ineffectiveness, drawing parallels between past and present failures to address critical societal issues.

Following the incident, the police apprehended the pair on suspicion of causing criminal damage. In response, the National Gallery temporarily withdrew “The Toilet of Venus” to allow for an assessment by art conservators.

The gallery conveyed that the suspects appeared to strike the painting using tools resembling emergency hammers. The gallery was evacuated, the authorities were notified, and the artwork was substituted with an alternative piece upon reopening the room.

“The Toilet of Venus” artfully portrays Venus, the deity of affection, in a reclined pose viewed from the back, with Cupid presenting a mirror to her.

The artwork became a target of suffragette Mary Richardson in 1914 as a form of protest against the incarceration of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst. Although it suffered slashes, it was later restored to its former integrity.

Additional arrests were made by the police on the same day, detaining numerous Just Stop Oil protestors executing a “slow march” and disrupting traffic flow on Whitehall in London as part of their protest tactics.

The previous year, another duo from the same group threw tomato soup over Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” at the National Gallery, as a stance against fossil fuel extraction. Thankfully, the protective glass spared the painting from any damage.

Just Stop Oil, part of a global movement of youth-led direct-action protest groups, receives support from the Climate Emergency Fund based in the U.S., which advocates for radical environmental activism.

The group has become known for their recurrent, conspicuous protests that have disrupted major roadways, sporting events, and more.

British legal authorities, in response to these disruptive demonstrations, have broadened the powers of the police in July, enhancing their capacity to intervene in traffic obstructions and manage stationary protests.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Just Stop Oil protest

What happened at the National Gallery involving a Velázquez painting?

Two environmental activists from Just Stop Oil attacked the protective glass of Diego Velázquez’s “The Toilet of Venus” with hammers to protest against fossil fuel projects in the UK.

Why did Just Stop Oil target “The Toilet of Venus” painting?

Just Stop Oil targeted this specific painting as it resonates with a historical protest for women’s suffrage in 1914, emphasizing their message that significant action, rather than words, is necessary for change.

What was the outcome of the protest at the National Gallery?

The activists were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, and “The Toilet of Venus” was temporarily removed from display for conservation assessment.

Have there been similar protests by Just Stop Oil?

Yes, Just Stop Oil has conducted several high-profile protests, including one where tomato soup was thrown on Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” painting at the same gallery.

What is the National Gallery’s response to the damage to the painting?

The National Gallery reported the incident to the police, evacuated the room, replaced the painting with another, and is currently assessing the artwork for any damage.

More about Just Stop Oil protest

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Emily Clark November 7, 2023 - 9:49 am

just read that the painting is okay but seriously, attacking art is not the way to get ppl on ur side, doesn’t this just turn public opinion against them?

Jane Doe November 7, 2023 - 12:12 pm

i heard about the soup incident last year but smashing the glass seems way over the top, how does this stop oil exploration?

John Smith November 7, 2023 - 1:10 pm

can’t believe they went after the Venus painting, it’s like history repeating with the suffragettes all over again, but does it really help their cause?

Alan Smithee November 7, 2023 - 2:54 pm

read an article about expanded police powers guess this kind of protest is why but it feels a bit like it’s infringing on civil liberties doesn’t it?

Mike O'Brien November 7, 2023 - 6:55 pm

So they’re just gonna vandalize art now, what’s next? Surely there’s better ways to make a point without damaging our cultural heritage.


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