LONDON — Three climate activists appeared in a London court on Saturday on charges of criminal damage after protests including throwing soup over Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” painting in the National Gallery.
Two women, age 20 and 21, were charged in relation to the soup-throwing protest on Friday, while a third was charged over paint sprayed on a rotating sign at the Metropolitan Police’s headquarters in central London. The three women pleaded not guilty to criminal damage at Westminster Magistrates’ Court during two brief hearings Saturday.
Demonstrators from climate change protest groups Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, which wants the U.K. government to halt new oil and gas projects, staged a series of protests in London on Friday.
Just Stop Oil said activists dumped two cans of tomato soup over the Van Gogh oil painting, one of the Dutch artist’s most iconic works. The two protesters also glued themselves to the gallery wall.
Prosecutor Ola Oyedepo said the pair didn’t harm the oil painting, which was covered by a glass protective case, but damage was caused to the frame.
The painting, one of several versions of “Sunflowers” that Van Gogh painted in the late 1880s, was cleaned and returned to its place in the National Gallery on Friday afternoon.
District judge Tan Irkam released the women on bail on condition that they don’t have paint or adhesive substances on them in a public place.
Police said they made some 28 arrests in relation to Friday’s protests, and 25 others were bailed pending further investigation. On Saturday, police arrested a further 26 people after Just Stop Oil protesters blocked a major road in east London. Some demonstrators glued themselves to the road surface.
Just Stop Oil has drawn attention, and criticism, for their disruptive tactics, including targeting artworks in museums. In July, activists glued themselves to the frame of an early copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, and to John Constable’s “The Hay Wain” in the National Gallery.
Activists have also blocked bridges and intersections across London during two weeks of protests against the U.K. government’s approach to climate change.
The latest wave of demonstrations came as Prime Minister Liz Truss‘ Conservative government opened a new licensing round for oil and gas operations in the North Sea and reversed a 2019 ban on frackingin England. Environmentalists say the U.K. government was undermining the fight against climate change.