On Monday, two climate change protesters were arrested in London after they vandalized a protective glass panel covering a renowned Diego Velázquez oil painting at the National Gallery.
The activists, affiliated with the group Just Stop Oil, used small hammers to target Velázquez’s “The Toilet of Venus,” also known as “The Rokeby Venus,” resulting in several holes in the protective glass.
Just Stop Oil is known for its previous protests targeting famous artworks and public buildings. Their latest action aimed to demand an immediate halt to all government licensing for the exploration, development, and production of fossil fuels in the U.K. The group claimed that their choice to target Velázquez’s 17th-century masterpiece was symbolic, as the painting was previously slashed as part of the suffragette movement advocating for women’s rights in 1914. The protesters reportedly hammered the glass panel and conveyed a message to gallery visitors, stating, “Women did not get the vote by voting. It is time for deeds, not words.”
Just Stop Oil expressed its frustration with the political landscape, asserting that it had failed women in 1914 and continues to fail today.
London’s Metropolitan Police arrested the two activists on suspicion of criminal damage, and the National Gallery subsequently removed the painting from display for a conservator’s examination.
“The Toilet of Venus” portrays Venus, the goddess of love, reclining on a bed with her back turned to the viewer, while her son Cupid holds a mirror to her face.
Notably, this painting had been targeted in 1914 by suffragette Mary Richardson to protest the imprisonment of fellow women’s rights activist Emmeline Pankhurst. While the artwork suffered multiple slashes during that incident, it was successfully restored.
In addition to the arrests at the National Gallery, the police detained numerous other Just Stop Oil protesters who were obstructing traffic and engaged in “slow marching” in central London’s Whitehall as part of their civil disobedience strategy.
This incident comes after a similar protest last year, when two activists threw cans of tomato soup over Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” at the National Gallery, again to protest fossil fuel extraction.