Two Just Stop Oil protesters glued their hands to the 18th-century frame of a van Gogh at London's Courtauld Gallery in June. (courtesy Just Stop Oil)

At the end of June, before Just Stop Oil became an internationally known climate protest network (and before they started throwing food), two of its members entered the Courtauld Gallery in London and glued their hands to the frame of Vincent van Gogh’s “Peach Trees in Blossom” (1889). The protest coincided with a heat wave in France, the country van Gogh depicted in his Impressionist painting, and the protesters criticized the United Kingdom’s continuation of oil and gas projects in light of worsening climate change.

As in all of Just Stop Oil’s high-profile actions, the activists did not damage the famous painting, but yesterday, a British court found the two protesters, Emily Brocklebank and Louis McKechnie, guilty of criminal damage to the 18th-century frame.

“I didn’t think I would cause much damage,” Brocklebank said during the trial. “Glue comes off.” Both Brocklebank and McKechnie received three-week jail sentences, although Brocklebank’s was suspended for six months. (The court also handed Brocklebank a six-week curfew.) A third activist named Xavier Gonzalez-Trimmer was initially charged for his role in “distracting the guards,” but those charges were dropped.

Judge Neeta Minhas stated that the frame had been “permanently damaged,” with the cost of restoration estimated at £2,000 (around $2,375). The Courtauld Gallery has not responded to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment.

With Just Stop Oil now a widely known protest group — at a pivotal moment in the planet’s future — the protesters’ lawyer Francesca Cociani raised a new point about activist-targeted works: Could their recent involvement in climate activism make these paintings more valuable down the line?

“Absolutely not,” responded Karen Serres, a paintings curator at the Courtauld Gallery, arguing that the value of “Peach Trees in Blossom” is too high to be affected and that the painting’s trust stipulates that it cannot be sold.

In another interesting turn of events, the hearing finally shed some light on the strength of Just Stop Oil’s glue. Serres, who was the sole witness present at the trial, told the court that it took three hours for Brocklebank and McKechnie to free themselves from the painting’s frame, and the police used their own solvent to detach the two young climate activists.

Although some protesters who have targeted famous artworks in the last six months have been arrested, jail sentences have been rare. The two Just Stop Oil members who threw tomato soup at van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1889), for example, were also charged with criminal damage but have not received time behind bars. However, a Dutch court issued jail time earlier this month to two protestors, unaffiliated with Just Stop Oil, who staged a messy action involving Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (1665). Although the painting was unharmed, prosecutors stated that the activists damaged the 19th-century frame.

Just Stop Oil appears undeterred.

“Just Stop Oil supporters will continue to resist while we still can,” the group said in a statement emailed to Hyperallergic. “We refuse to die silently.”

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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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