Two climate activists who targeted Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (1665) at the Hague’s Mauritshuis Museum last week are getting jail time. A Dutch court sentenced the protestors to two months, with one month suspended, and the third activist who was involved will appear in court on Friday.

The painting, which was under glass, was undamaged and the museum placed “Girl with a Pearl Earring” back on display the following day.

In their action, one protestor poured a red substance onto the other’s head, who then glued it to the Dutch Golden Age masterpiece. In a video posted by Twitter user @Kolpen, one of the activists asks a crowd of onlookers, “Do you feel outraged? Good. Where is that feeling when you see the planet being destroyed before our very eyes?”

The crowd, however, was not so convinced. They voiced disgust and criticism, responding with cries of “obscene,” “stupid,” and “shut up!”

The Maritshuis Museum in The Hague (photo by Joao Araujo via Flickr)

“An artwork hanging there for all, for all of us, to enjoy, has been smeared by defendants who felt their message took precedence over everything else,” said the public prosecutor, who asked for a four-month sentence with two months suspended, according to Reuters. The judge, however, stated that she did not want a longer sentence to discourage others from protesting.

While some activists involved in similar protests have been charged, it is rare for them to receive a prison sentence. The news has been met with mixed reactions, with some congratulating the Dutch court for taking a stand against targeting masterpieces and asking for even more time behind bars, and others lamenting the verdict.

“This one-month sentence is disgusting,” Michele Guili, co-founder of the Italian branch of Last Generation, told Hyperallergic. Members of Last Generation have glued themselves to Sandro Botticelli’s “Primavera” (c. 1480) at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the ancient Roman statue “Laocoön and His Sons” at the Vatican. “This is also about the hatred that a sick society expresses toward people who, without harming anyone, ask it to stop for a moment and think.”

Although the two activists wore shirts that read “Just Stop Oil,” the organizer of the famous van Gogh tomato soup action last month, the United Kingdom climate advocacy group told Hyperallergic they did not sponsor the protest at the Mauritshuis Museum but “applaud those ordinary everyday people who refuse to stand by, who step up to act.”

The two Just Stop Oil activists who threw tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888) were charged with criminal damage and have not received jail sentences, but other members of the group have not been so lucky. The group has also staged demonstrations involving road shut-downs and wide-spread spray-painting, and dozens of members have been sent to prison and almost 2,000 have been arrested.

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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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