In an action this morning, Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (c. 1665) at the Hague’s Mauritshuis Museum in the Netherlands became the latest masterpiece to be targeted by climate activists. This time, however, the two protesters did not throw food directly on the painting: In a creative divergence from the pattern sweeping European museums, one activist poured a red substance on the other (it’s unclear whether it’s tomato soup), who then glued his head to the work.

“How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless being apparently destroyed before your eyes?” one of the activists asked, as seen in a video posted by Twitter user @Kolpen.

Onlookers are heard voicing their disapproval of the action with reactions that included “obscene,” “stupid,” “get away from there,” “shame on you,” and “shut up!”

“Do you feel outraged? Good,” the activist countered. “Where is that feeling when you see the planet being destroyed before our very eyes?”

Since this morning’s action, Dutch authorities have reportedly arrested three people for “public violence against property.” A museum spokesperson told Hyperallergic that the painting, which was protected by glass, was unharmed.

“The Girl with a Pearl Earring will be back on view as soon possible,” the spokesperson said. “Until then, the room the painting is housed in will remain closed to the public. Art is defenseless, and the Mauritshuis firmly rejects attempts to damage it for any purpose whatsoever.”

Although the two people in the video are wearing t-shirts bearing the words “Just Stop Oil,” the name of the activist group that has been leading many of the recent food-on-masterpieces climate protests, the action this morning was not sanctioned by them.

“This is not an action that Just Stop Oil in the UK have organized,” a representative of Just Stop Oil told Hyperallergic. “We applaud those ordinary everyday people who refuse to stand by, who step up to act. Our demand of ending new oil and gas is supported across the world. If we don’t stop the harm caused by burning fossil fuels there will be no one to look at the masterpieces that are on display in our museums.”

Today’s action is just the latest in a series of high-profile climate protests involving Europe’s most famous paintings and food. Earlier this week, two activists threw mashed potatoes on a Monet in Germany, and last week, two activists threw tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888) in London. The high-profile actions have inspired an outpour of debate, confusion, think pieces, and conspiracy theories.

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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