Why Climate Protesters Just Threw Tomato Soup at a Van Gogh Painting

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Oct. 14 2022, Published 12:33 p.m. ET

Just Stop Oil protest
Source: Just Stop Oil

“Sunflowers” is one of Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous series of paintings — and tomato is one of Heinz’s most famous soups. What do these two things have to do with each other, you ask?

Well, a pair of Just Stop Oil protesters recently tossed tomato soup from a can onto one of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” paintings — in the name of climate action.

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Though controversial, this protest is certainly creating publicity for their cause — but what exactly did the protesters hope to achieve? And is Van Gogh’s painting OK? Here’s what happened.

Just Stop Oil protesters threw tomato soup at Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” painting at the National Gallery.

Just Stop Oil Van Gogh
Source: Just Stop Oil

On Friday, Oct. 14, two protesters with the climate coalition Just Stop Oil visited the National Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square. At around 11 a.m. local time, the two young women approached the renowned “Sunflowers” painting, created in 1888 by the Dutch artist. Then, they removed their jackets to reveal T-shirts reading “just stop oil.”

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Then, they opened two cans of Heinz tomato soup, and threw the contents directly at the painting, drenching it in thick red liquid.

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Just Stop Oil’s Anna Holland and Phoebe Plummer hope that their protest by Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” will draw attention to the climate crisis.

In videos of the protest, a few museum patrons can be heard gasping. One even called out “oh my gosh!” The two women — Anna Holland, 20, and Phoebe Plummer, 21, according to a release from Just Stop Oil — ignored the gasps, and crouched down in front of the dripping painting. They pulled out small bottles of glue, and then glued their hands onto the wall beneath the painting.

What is worth more? Art or life?” one of the protesters called out to the crowd, with her hand stuck to the wall. “Is it worth more than food? Worth more than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting, or the protection of our planet and people?”

She then continued, explaining why they chose a can of soup as their weapon in this protest. “The cost of living crisis is part of the cost of oil crisis. Fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families,” she stated. “They can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup.”

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All patrons were asked to leave the room, and police officers soon arrived at the scene. The officers unglued Holland and Plummer from the wall, and took them into custody at a London police station, ABC News reported. They were arrested on charges of “criminal damage and aggravated trespass,” as per BBC News.

Just Stop Oil is raising money to promote its cause.

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Was Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” ruined during the climate protest?

Many historic pieces of art are protected by glass — and fortunately, “Sunflowers” falls into this category. "There is some minor damage to the frame but the painting is unharmed,” the National Gallery stated, according to BBC News.

And as The Guardian reported, Just Stop Oil said that they knew the painting was protected by glass before staging the protest.

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Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” is not the only painting to be used in a climate protest.

According to Just Stop Oil, this is the 14th consecutive day of the organization’s actions in London. The goal of this series of actions is to demand that the U.K. government stop all new oil and gas projects.

“This is not a one day event, this is an act of resistance against a criminal government and their genocidal death project,” Just Stop Oil said in a statement. “Our supporters will be returning – today, tomorrow and the next day – and the next day after that – and every day until our demand is met: no new oil and gas in the UK.”

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"Sunflowers" is far from the first piece of art that Just Stop Oil has used to make a statement about the dangers of fossil fuels. Recently, protesters from the group glued themselves to the frames surrounding Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and John Constable’s “The Hay Wain,” as per ABC News.

And in May of this year, a protester (not associated with Just Stop Oil) made headlines for throwing a piece of cake at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum in Paris, also in hopes of calling attention to the climate crisis.

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