In a Wednesday, June 14 protest, Restore Wetlands environmental activists smeared red paint on the protective glass of Claude Monet’s “The Artist’s Garden at Giverny” (1900) at Sweden’s Nationalmuseum. The two activists, who have been identified as Emma Johanna Fritzdotter and Maj per Restore Wetlands social media posts, then proceeded to glue their hands to the glass. They were eventually taken into custody by Stockholm authorities.
“The pandemic was nothing compared to the climate collapse,” Fritzdotter said in Swedish during the action. “We can’t even imagine what is to come.”
The activists used red handprints to bring attention to the ways in which climate change is also a “health crisis already taking people’s lives,” per the group’s post, which also warned that lush gardens such as the one depicted in the Monet painting could “soon be a thing of the past” as carbon emissions continue to deteriorate the environment.
Restore Wetlands is a Swedish environmental advocacy group that has been calling on the country’s government to help reduce carbon emissions through the restoration of its peatlands, wetland ecosystems that comprise 15% of Sweden’s land area. These wetlands are also major carbon deposits under threat from forestry and mining.
The Nationalmuseum told Hyperallergic that the painting was on loan to the institution as part of The Garden – Six Centuries of Art and Nature exhibition. Museum officials said that although the artwork was undamaged after a thorough inspection, conservators had to remove some glue and paint from the frame. They are now looking into reinstating the painting.
“We distance ourselves from actions where art or cultural heritage are put at risk of damage,” the Nationalmuseum’s Acting Director General Per Hedström said in a statement.
Hedström went on to condemn the action, saying that “cultural heritage has great symbolic value” and that under no circumstances is it acceptable “to attack or destroy it.”
Josefin Eidrup Dahlberg, a spokesperson for Restore Wetlands, told Hyperallergic that the two activists have not yet been released from detainment despite the fact that the museum had confirmed the painting was not damaged, and added that the action was a “harmless protest.”
“This painting is a perfect symbol of everything we love and hold dear: beauty, nature, and serenity. All the things that we want to take for granted in our lives, but due to the impending climate catastrophe we can’t,” Dahlberg said. “The entire world is on fire and people are dying, yet power holders keep raising emissions.”
Hyperallergic has contacted Stockholm authorities for more information regarding the status of the detained protesters.
This protest is the latest in a string of environmentalist actions involving historical artworks. In April, activists went after one of Edgar Degas‘s ballerina sculptures in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Other actions have also targeted Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (1665), Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888) at London’s National Gallery, Rome’s Fontana della Barcaccia, Sandro Botticelli’s “Primavera” (1480) in the Uffizi Gallery, and “Laocoön and His Sons” located in the Vatican.
These climate demonstrations have ignited a heated debate over whether the targeting of historical artworks is an effective mode of protest against the scourge of climate change, with some museum leaders arguing that activists “severely underestimate the fragility” of these works that “must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage,” per an open letter published by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) in November. Others have decried the hypocrisy of those who value objects over the well-being of humans and the environment.
“As peaceful, nonviolent climate movements grow all across the world, actions will continue,” Dahlberg told Hyperallergic. “Regular people won’t stop the civil resistance until politicians have stopped their emissions and secured the lives of the billions of people whose health and safety are now at stake.”