Just Stop Oil protesters arrested after throwing tomato soup over Van Gogh Sunflowers painting

  • ITV News' Helen Keenan reports on the incident

Just Stop Oil activists have been arrested after covering a Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers painting with tomato soup at the National Gallery.

Two women targeted the iconic art work, which is worth an estimated £72.5 million, shortly after 11am on Friday in what the group says is a "response to the government’s inaction on both the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis."

The protestors, wearing Just Stop Oil T-shirts, threw two tins of Heinz Tomato soup over the 1888 work, before kneeling down in front of the painting and applying glue to their hands to stick themselves to a nearby wall.

Tomato soup covered the image, which is covered by glass, as well as parts of the golden frame.

Visitors were then shortly escorted out by security, who then shut the doors to room 43 of the gallery where the painting hangs.

Sunflowers' (1888) by Vincent van Gogh

One of the activists, 21-year-old Phoebe Plummer from London, said in front of the painting: "What is worth more, art or life? 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? The cost of living crisis is part of the cost of oil crisis."

The protesters were later seen being put into a police van at the back entrance of the gallery.

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: "Officers were rapidly on scene at the National Gallery this morning after two Just Stop Oil protesters threw a substance over a painting and then glued themselves to a wall.

"Both have been arrested for criminal damage and aggravated trespass."

The painting, which suffered minor damage to the frame, was put back on display on Friday afternoon, the National Gallery confirmed.

Meanwhile, 24 Just Stop Oil protesters were arrested after yellow paint was thrown over the famous rotating New Scotland Yard sign outside the Metropolitan Police headquarters.

Activists targeting works of art

Painted in Arles in the south of France in August 1888, Van Gogh’s painting shows fifteen sunflowers standing in a yellow pot against a yellow background.

It is the second, more famous, Van Gogh painting to be targeted by the group, with two climate activists glueing themselves to his 1889 Peach Trees in Blossom, exhibited at the Courtauld Gallery, at the end of June.

Protesters also glued themselves to their own “reimagined version” of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery in July - the same month a 500-year-old copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Summer in London’s Royal Academy was targeted by the group.

Friday marked the 14th day of “continuous disruption” by the environmental protest group, which has also seen protesters block several key roads in the capital over the course of the fortnight.

The National Gallery said: "At just after 11am this morning two people entered Room 43 of the National Gallery.

"The pair appeared to glue themselves to the wall adjacent to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1888). They also threw a red substance – what appears to be tomato soup – over the painting.

"The room was cleared of visitors and police were called. Officers are now on the scene. There is some minor damage to the frame but the painting is unharmed."

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