Johannes Vermeer’s beloved masterpiece has become the latest painting targeted by climate activists. A member of Just Stop Oil superglued his head to the painting, which is displayed behind glass at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague.
The artwork was not damaged, according to representatives from the museum. Police have arrested three subjects, all Belgian men in their 40s, and the gallery where the work is normally on view has been temporarily closed to the public.
“The condition of the painting has been investigated by our conservators. Fortunately, the glazed masterpiece was not damaged. The will be back on view as soon possible,” the museum said in a statement. “Art is defenseless, and the Mauritshuis firmly rejects attempts to damage it for any purpose whatsoever.”
A video of the incident can viewed on Twitter, showing two men wearing Just Stop Oil approaching the painting. One attempted to glue his head to the Dutch Golden Age canvas, while the other glued his hand to the wall next to the work and dumped a can of what appeared to be tomatoes on his partner’s head.
— Steven Bakker (@Kolpen) October 27, 2022
“How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless being apparently destroyed before your eyes? Do you feel outrage? Good,” the second man proclaimed. “Where is that feeling when you see the planet being destroyed before our very eyes?”
Though the protestor tried to reassure other museum videos that the artwork is behind glass, an onlooker responded by shouting “Shame on you!”
A second video shows the two men being escorted away by police officers.
Just Stop Oil and other similarly minded groups have attracted widespread news coverage for a recent spate of museum-based protests. The most recent actions have included hurling tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s painting at London’s National Gallery and throwing mashed potatoes at Claude Monet’s at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany.
Meanwhile, activists from the group Scientist Rebellion recently glued themselves to the floor of the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg, Germany, and were distraught when, instead of calling police, staff closed up for the night and left them there, allegedly unable to use the bathroom. The protest ultimately lasted two nights before the authorities arrested participants.
30 hours and counting!
14 of our brave scientists are still occupying @Autostadt, ready to spend another night.
— Scientist Rebellion (@ScientistRebel1) October 20, 2022
By incorporating foodstuffs, the protests have escalated from earlier actions where participants glued themselves only to famous artworks’ frames. Activists are attempting to tread a fine line by equating the fragile nature of historic artworks to the grave threat faced by our planet without actually harming our shared cultural heritage.
“The message is clear: if humanity does not immediately stop using fossil fuels, it will become extinct,” Just Stop Oil said in statement, according to Reuters. “They would never defile a work of art not covered with protective glass.”
But many are critical of the activists’ approach.
“Everyone has the right to make a point,” Dutch junior minister for culture Gunay Uslu wrote on Twitter. “But please: leave our shared heritage alone. Attacking defenseless works of art is not the right way.”