At 3:30pm today, June 30, two protesters glued their hands to the frame of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Peach Trees in Blossom” (1889) at the Courtauld Gallery in London in an action orchestrated by the climate advocacy group Just Stop Oil.
Standing in front of — and adhered to — Van Gogh’s 19th-century depiction of an idyllic countryside in Arles, France, one of the activists recited a succinct message: “It’s a beautiful painting; we’re also terrified for our future.”
“We’re here because the UK government is pushing through 40 new fossil fuel projects, and with every single project they sign, it’s like signing out death warrant,” he continued in a video shared by the group. He added that after 30 years of protesting outside the nation’s parliament, nothing had been done.
“If there were any other way of getting the change we need, we would have done it. We’ve tried everything else,” the activist said.
The Courtauld Gallery told Hyperallergic that the gallery in which the painting hangs was shut down to the public and remained closed for the rest of the day, but will reopen as usual tomorrow.
According to Just Stop Oil‘s statement, the action comes amid warnings that the Provence region portrayed in Van Gogh’s painting “may soon be experiencing drought.” Indeed, France experienced its hottest May on record and more spiking heat in June. The country has also restricted water usage in anticipation of drought.
This is Just Stop Oil’s second intervention in two days: Yesterday, five members were arrested after they glued themselves to another 19th-century landscape painting, this one housed in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Scotland. The work by Horatio McCulloch, titled “My Heart’s in the Highlands” (1860), offers a romanticized depiction of a Scottish lake and mountain range.
“We are holding art sacred, and landscapes and nature around us. The landscape in this painting isn’t going to exist,” said one of the protesters as she stood glued to the gilded frame.
In a statement on the Glasgow action, Just Stop Oil said that it was prompted by the United Kingdom Climate Change Committee‘s disappointing 2022 progress report to parliament. In the forward of the report, released yesterday, Committee Chairman Lord Deben wrote: “In targets, the UK is indeed a world leader. However, this Progress Report reveals that, despite important achievements in renewable energy and electric vehicles, the Government is failing in much of its implementation.”
And while two activists were glued to McCullough’s landscape, other members of the group spray-painted “#JustStopOil” on the museum’s walls and floors, and another member delivered an impassioned speech in the atrium.
“We are calling out our government’s continued contempt for our climate and our lives,” the protester shouted in the atrium, a crowd of museum visitors listening around her.
The museum issued a statement on Twitter yesterday saying that the institution shut down early but would be open today.
These actions, although explicitly responding to climate change in Europe, happen to coincide with the United States Supreme Court June 30 takedown of the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits on carbon emissions for power plants. The ruling sets a grim precedent in which American business interests will hold more fighting power against government-issued climate policy.