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“If we love art, if we love life, if we love our families we must Just Stop Oil”, those are the words pronounced by activists who protested in London. Ecologists attacked a painting by Velazquez with a hammer. Activists from the Just Stop Oil environmental movement have launched a month of mobilization a week ago for an immediate halt to new oil and gas projects in the United Kingdom. What are the expected objectives of this movement? What does the international community think?

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Hanan, 22, and Harrison, 20, in front of “Rokeby Venus” Venus at Her Mirror by Velázquez at the National Gallery, London on November 6, 2023/ © Just Stop Oil
Hanan, 22, and Harrison, 20, in front of “Rokeby Venus” Venus at Her Mirror by Velázquez at the National Gallery, London on November 6, 2023/ © Just Stop Oil

Monday was marked, according to the police, by around a hundred arrests of members of the movement. Most spectacular operation: two activists, aged 20 and 22, entered the National Gallery around 10.45 a.m. and hit with a hammer the protective glass of Venus in the Mirror, a well-known painting in the United Kingdom under the name Rokeby Venus, the organization reported in a press release.

The Diego Velazquez painting in question dates from the mid-17th century. It is considered the only remaining nude by the Spanish painter. 

The National Gallery confirmed the action. They affirmed they had evacuated visitors from the room and called the police. The painting was removed for examination by museum curators. London police announced they had arrested the two activists for damage.

“Women were not given the right to vote through the ballot box. The time is no longer for words but for actions”, – declared the activists after their action, according to Just Stop Oil. “Politics is failing us. It failed women in 1914 and it is failing us now. New oil and gas will kill millions. If we love art, if we love life, if we love our families we must Just Stop Oil”

This is not the first time that a work of art has been targeted

In 2022, Just Stop Oil activists had already targeted the National Gallery. They threw tomato soup on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, as well as the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, where they stuck to the window of The Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Vermeer. In both cases, the canvases were protected by glass and had not suffered damage.

On Monday, around a hundred demonstrators were arrested for obstructing traffic near Downing Street. Twenty-five others, “mothers and grandmothers” demanding “a better future for their children”, were arrested for the same reason between Whitehall and Trafalgar Square, an area of the capital where the main ministries are located.

The aim of the attack on the two works is to highlight the new licenses for hydrocarbon exploration and drilling in the North Sea and their consequences.

Daniel Leal / AFP

Ecological attacks against paintings: the art world is worried
about this momentum “which leads to nothing”

It is not the first time in Europe that this has happened. Several European museums are considering increasing their security measures in the face of the proliferation of actions carried out by environmental movements. And this, even though no work of art has yet been damaged.

Always protected by glass, it could happen without this protection and will provoke a real impact on the art. Vector of a past and a history, the art works are now a source of manifestations. “Why do we protect works better than the planet?” These are the words that stand out the most.

“Art cannot defend itself,” lamented the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague where The Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer, has already been targeted.

Voices are nevertheless being raised to question, reluctantly, the security flaws of museums. “All museum managers have been taking precautions against vandalism for a very long time. Should we take more? Without doubt, reacted Bernard Blistène, honorary president of the Center Pompidou in Paris, interviewed by AFP. To get there, something of consciousness must be affected and it is hopeless. It doesn’t lead to anything,” he added. 

For Ortrud Westheider, director of the Barberini Museum in Potsdam (Germany), these attacks showed that the “high international standards for protecting works of art are no longer sufficient”, according to a press release from his establishment targeted by activists in 2022, environmentalists from the Letzte Generation. The activists had smeared the window protecting Les Meules by Claude Monet with mash.

What  is Just Stop Oil ? What are its goals ?

Just Stop Oil wants the UK to stop approving new fossil fuel projects. Indeed, these projects are a major cause of climate change. However, in July 2023, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that 100 new North Sea licences had been granted.

The group came to prominence when its activists shut down major roads such as the M25 and Dartford crossing in November 2022.

The group has also targeted several major sporting events, including the Wimbledon tennis championships, the second Ashes Test at Lord’s cricket ground and the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.


Just Stop Oil says it uses “non-violent civil resistance” to make its point. They also affirm that they will end protests when the government announces an end to fossil-fuel production.

In May and June 2023, Parliament passed new anti-protest legislation under the Public Order Act. 

This gives powers to prosecute someone who interferes with the operation or use of key national infrastructure in England and Wales – including roads, railways, and air transport. 

Previously, the police could generally only restrict a protest if they could show it may result in “serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community”. 

The new legislation lowers the threshold for “serious disruption”, allowing police to respond to action which prevents or delays day-to-day activities such as completing a journey. 

It also made “locking-on” – whereby protesters attach themselves to buildings, objects or other people – a criminal offence. 

Many Just Stop Oil protesters have used bike locks and superglue to attach themselves to roads and other objects in order to slow down police efforts to remove them.

The end of this conflict will not be any closer than today. To see how far the movement is willing to go to protest.


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