Galleries on high alert as climate protesters target famous paintings - Museums Association

Sign up to our newsletter today and you could win a free membership

Sign up to our newsletter today and you could win a free membership

Galleries on high alert as climate protesters target famous paintings

Activists have glued themselves to works at four institutions, including Royal Academy and National Gallery
Climate protesters glued themselves to The Hay Wain by John Constable at the National Gallery
Climate protesters glued themselves to The Hay Wain by John Constable at the National Gallery Just Stop Oil

Museums and galleries with art collections have been told to tighten security after climate activists from the group Just Stop Oil glued themselves to well-known paintings in a series of protests at Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum in Glasgow, and London’s Royal Academy, Courtauld Gallery and National Gallery.

A briefing from the National Police Coordination Centre (NPCC) said the activist group is “highly likely to continue targeting high-value artworks in order to generate further international news coverage for their campaign messaging”.

The briefing said it is likely that Just Stop Oil will carry out further direct action at other art galleries in the UK in the immediate future and there is a realistic possibility of the actions “continuing daily”.

The NPCC has advised UK police and constabularies to brief art galleries with high value art collections in their area “to enable enhancement of their security as necessary”.

The Royal Academy became the latest institution to be targeted this morning, when five Just Stop Oil activists sprayed paint on the walls of the Royal Academy and glued their hands onto the frame of The Last Supper, which is believed to have been painted by Giampietrino, a student of Leonardo Da Vinci, in the 1500s.

The activists say they are calling on the government to commit to "immediately halt new oil and gas licenses in the UK and for the directors, employees and members of art institutions to join the Just Stop Oil coalition in peaceful civil resistance". 

Advertisement

At the National Gallery yesterday, two protesters covered the surface of John Constable’s The Hay Wain (1821) with sheets of paper showing a reimagined version of the painting as a polluted modern landscape. They then glued themselves to the frame of the artwork.

The incident took place around 2.15pm in Room 34 of the gallery. The room was subsequently evacuated and the protestors remained in place until 4.40pm, when police attended to remove and arrest them.   

A spokeswoman from the gallery said: “The painting was removed from the wall to be examined by our conservation team. 

“The Hay Wain suffered minor damage to its frame and there was also some disruption to the surface of the varnish on the painting - both of which have now been successfully dealt with.”

The spokeswoman said the painting was rehung in Room 34 in time for the gallery’s opening this morning.

Three of the paintings targeted so far have been landscapes and all have been well known and of high value.

Advertisement

The first action took place on 29 June, when two activists sprayed graffiti slogans on the walls of Kelvingrove before attaching themselves to the frame of My Heart’s in the Highlands (1860) by Horatio McCulloch. Other protestors filmed the incident and handed out leaflets.

Six protesters were arrested and charged with malicious mischief. The graffiti is estimated to have caused £15,000 worth of damage.

On 30 June, two protesters used superglue lock-ons to attach themselves to the frame of Peach Trees in Blossom1889, by Vincent van Gogh at the Courtauld Gallery. The activists were arrested and charged with criminal damage.

A Courtauld spokesperson said: “The painting has been removed from display. Our initial assessment is that the painting is undamaged. The frame will require treatment to remove glue residue before the work can be returned to display.” 

The Courtauld Gallery and the Edvard Munch: Masterpieces from Bergen exhibition have reopened as normal.

One of the protesters at the National Gallery, Hannah Hunt, a 23-year-old psychology student from Brighton, said she was fighting government plans to licence 40 new oil and gas projects in the UK in the next few years.  

She said: “You can forget our ‘green and pleasant land’ when further oil extraction will lead to widespread crop failures which means we will be fighting for food. Ultimately, new fossil fuels are a death project by our government. So yes there is glue on the frame of this painting but there is blood on the hands of our government. 

“The disruption will end when the UK government makes a meaningful statement that it will end new oil and gas licenses.”

Leave a comment

You must be signed in to post a comment.

Discover

Advertisement