Climate Activists Throw Soup on “Sunflowers,” Other Art in Protest

by Nina Mitchell (she/her)

Two climate activists opened cans of Heinz tomato soup and hurled their contents onto Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, “Sunflowers,” in room 43 of London’s National Gallery on Oct. 14. The painting, protected by a sheet of glass, is in the same condition as before, with minimal damage to the frame.

After the viral soup toss that drew the attention of those in the room, activists Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland glued themselves to the wall while a bystander called for security. Plummer then gave a speech where she expressed her reasoning behind the protest.

“What is worth more, art or life? Is it worth more than food? Worth more than justice?” Plummer said. “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. Fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families. They can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup.”

Plummer and Holland were both wearing shirts reading “Just Stop Oil,” the name of an environmental activist group in the United Kingdom. Just Stop Oil dedicates its protests to stopping new fossil fuel licensing and production, often getting its point across by sparking debate with attention-grabbing acts and has a history of protesting with art.

During 2022 there have been five major incidents where Just Stop Oil protestors defaced art in an attempt to get attention. In late spring, a man posed as a woman in a wheelchair and smeared cake on the glass of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” More recently, a man glued his own head to Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring” as someone else poured tomato soup on him.

While many supported this protest and similar events to it all over social media, others were not so fond of the actions this group has been performing. Public threats directed towards activists and supporters have been made, as well as threats to harm the climate each time Just Stop Oil performed “childish” acts similar to this one.

There have been no public apologies made by Just Stop Oil members regarding the protest, only continued spreading of the video and message Plummer and Holland were trying to convey. Just Stop Oil members have not stopped due to these threats and are still carrying out protests throughout the U.K.