Two Climate Activists Shattered the Glass Protecting Diego Velázquez’s ‘Rokeby Venus’ at London’s National Gallery

The protestors were arrested and the painting has been removed from display.

Two Just Stop Oil activists have been arrested for criminal damage to the glass protecting a Diego Velázquez painting at the National Gallery. Photo courtesy of Just Stop Oil

Two protestors from the climate activist group Just Stop Oil were arrested on November 6 after breaking the glass protecting an artwork at London’s National Gallery.

Just Stop Oil said in a statement that Harrison Donnelly, 20, and a 22-year-old named Hanan visited the museum around 10:45 a.m. local time and used safety hammers to smash the glass covering Rokeby Venus (c. 1647–51) by Diego Velázquez. According to the National Gallery, the room was cleared and officers were summoned.

In 1914, the painting was slashed seven times while it hung in the National Gallery by suffragette Mary Richardson to protest the imprisonment of Emmeline Pankhurst. Last December, the protest group announced it would start modeling itself after the suffragette movement, indicating it could begin slashing paintings. So far, the group has avoided causing actual damage to any artwork.

“Today, I have used similar methods in the fight for climate justice,” Hanan said in a statement, in reference to Richardson’s famous slashing. Donnelly said that the suffragettes are proof such methods work to achieve social change, as the protesters noted that women did not get the right to vote by voting and now is a “time for deeds.”

The two protesters are demanding that the British government immediately halt all new oil and gas projects following its September approval of a massive and controversial oil project in the North Sea, which saw it issue hundreds of new drilling licenses.

A statement by the Metropolitan Police said the activists were apprehended for “criminal damage” and that the painting was “vandalized.” The Rokeby Venus has been removed from display to be examined by conservators, the museum noted in a statement.

Meanwhile, in coordinated actions across London, Just Stop Oil protesters marched down Whitehall, the road that runs south from Trafalgar Square toward Parliament Square. Metropolitan Police later announced they had arrested at least 40 protesters who were slowly marching, allowing officials to clear the roads. Those arrests were made as the protesters blocked traffic near 10 Downing Street, the official residence of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, according to The Independent.

But in a third action, another group of Just Stop Oil activists showed up and began marching along Whitehall. According to a statement from the police, the arrest total from the day “is thought to be around 100.”

Meanwhile, another three Just Stop Oil activists were imprisoned for 28 days on Friday for participating in a protest march in the city.

“Many others have been bailed out of London and have been put under house arrest on ankle tag,” Just Stop Oil said in a statement. “We are not prepared to watch silently while this government, bought by the criminals in the oil industry, are planning for millions to die, whilst the judiciary imprisons those that stand against this injustice.”

The group plans for a large protest in London every day beginning at noon on November 20 in Trafalgar Square until their demands are met.

Last month, climate activists scaled the Louvre in Paris to throw orange paint over the glass pyramid structure.


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