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"What's the maximum sentence they can get?": Viral video of climate protestors throwing tomato soup on Van Gogh's priceless Sunflowers painting sparks mass outrage 

A Van Gogh painting was defaced by two climate activists (image via Getty Images)
A Van Gogh painting was defaced by two climate activists (image via Getty Images)

On October 14, 2022, two climate change activists defaced a priceless Van Gogh creation displayed at the National Gallery in London.

Activists Phoebe Plummer, 21, and Anna Holland, 20, threw a can of tomato soup over the Sunflowers painting and appeared to "glue themselves" to the wall. The pair were part of an activist group that advocates against fossil fuel extraction in the United Kingdom. The duo wore t-shirts with the group's name, "Just Stop Oil."

Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh (image via London National Gallery)
Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh (image via London National Gallery)

The activists caused uproar in room 43 of the gallery after they threw the liquid at the painting, which was protected by glass. Phoebe then asked:

"What is worth more, art or life?"

They continued:

“Is it worth more than food? More than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?"

The rising cost of fuel prices has contributed to the rising cost of living. The motivation to throw soup was charged by the fact that some people "can't even afford to heat a tin of soup."

While there is some slight damage to the frame, the painting itself remains unharmed. The Just Stop Oil group claims to be aware that the painting was protected by a glass film. Meanwhile, the duo have been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and aggravated trespass.

Two activist deface a Van Gogh painting (image via NBC news)
Two activist deface a Van Gogh painting (image via NBC news)

Painted in Arles, France, in 1888, Sunflowers is Van Gogh's most famous work of art. The London National Gallery acquired it in 1942. The painter's own copy of the original was sold for over $40 million, making it worth over $100 million today after considering inflation.


Internet outrages at the damage to Van Gogh's masterpiece

Following the attempted damage to one of the artist's "most iconic and best-loved works," netizens are enraged by the actions of the two activists claiming to be ill-motivated.

Users have taken to Twitter to criticize their actions. Some impressed upon the fact that Van Gogh was "severely impoverished" and that painting was his only source of income. The internet called them "uncivilized" and found it ironic that the group chose a poor painter to protest poverty.

One user even hoped they'd receive the maximum possible prison sentence.

Though many in the Twitterverse are activists against climate change and excessive fossil fuel consumption, they feel that the destruction of treasured artifacts "makes no sense in the furtherance of a cause."

@damiengayle @JustStop_Oil What's the maximum sentence they can get?
the irony that they’ve chosen to deface a van gogh piece to protest poverty- that man was famously impoverished, that art was his only form of income and he was ridiculed for it twitter.com/metrouk/status…
I'm struggling to understand why destroying a painting of sunflowers done by Van Gogh, an impoverished man who was marginalised in his local community due to his mental illness, is the right target to make a statement about how awful the oil industry is.
What on earth has Van Gogh's Sunflowers got to do with oil? Why not shove Michelangelo's David into the sea to stop oil? Pound a mammoth skeleton into dust to stop oil? Stab a dolphin? Piss onto a puffin?I'm completely behind stopping oil, but this seems mad. twitter.com/PoliticsJOE_UK…
Ah Van Gogh. That most infamous of oil barons. Clean it up and leave them glued to the wall for a week as a semi permanent art installation. The attempted destruction of beautiful artefacts makes no sense to me in the furtherance of a cause and yet here I am tweeting about it twitter.com/damiengayle/st…
Van Gogh is one of the rare artists to be universally beloved, so how is throwing tomato sauce on his legacy any kind of liberatory act?

Naturally, some responses come in the form of jokes and memes. One user called @_joepanama tweeted from the point-of-view of the security guard of the National Gallery, saying:

"Just on a break from my new job as the chief of security for Van Gogh's Sunflowers. Not a care in the world."

Others created hilarious memes regarding the event, with one even likening it to singer Katy Perry's iconic Teen Choice Awards moment in 2010.

Just on a break from my new job as chief of security for Van Gogh's Sunflowers. Not a care in the world.
i think if you told Vincent Van Gogh that one day some teens were going to get into a gallery and throw soup on one of his paintings, he would probably freak out to find out that his work is in an art gallerythen he would probably beg that you give him some of the soup
that one van gogh painting: https://t.co/25w0GDXEKh

The painting is one of seven Sunflowers created by Van Gogh, five of which are on display in museums across the world. Should the painting return to the market, it is estimated to be worth several million dollars.

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Edited by Priya Majumdar
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