Two members of the British anti-fossil fuel group Just Stop Oil were arrested at the National Gallery in London this morning, November 6, after using safety hammers to smash the glass protecting a Diego Velázquez painting during a climate emergency demonstration.
The two activists intentionally chose to target Velázquez’s “Rokeby Venus” (1647–1651), which had once before been the subject of vandalism in 1914 in protest of the imprisonment of British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst.
One of the activists addressed the surrounding crowd after the pair repeatedly hammered the painting’s protective glass. “Women did not get the vote by voting; it is time for deeds, not words,” they said, drawing parallels to Canadian suffragist Mary Richardson’s slashing of the painting over 100 years ago in protest of the brutal treatment of Pankhurst. Pankhurst championed British women’s right to vote between the late 19th century and early 20th century through militant actions, widespread organizing, and hunger strikes during her repeated imprisonment for radical advocacy.
“Politics is failing us,” the second activist lamented. “It failed women in 1914 and it is failing us now. New oil and gas will kill millions. If we love art, if we love life, if we love our families we must just stop oil.”
A spokesperson for the National Gallery told Hyperallergic that “Rokeby Venus” had been removed from the gallery and that “minimal damage has been sustained to the surface of the painting,” which is currently being treated by the institution’s conservators.
There is no scheduled timeline for the work’s return to the gallery. It has been replaced by the 17th-century painting “A Dead Soldier,” once attributed to Velázquez, for the time being.
This incident is one of several art-related demonstrations in Just Stop Oil’s wake, though it’s a marked escalation from the group’s iconic “souping” of Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888) at the National Gallery over a year ago. In regards to the decision to opt for hammering the glass rather than splashing it, a spokesperson for Just Stop Oil shared a quote from Pankhurst with Hyperallergic: “You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else.”
“Our government is undertaking actions that will lead to the deaths of countless millions, and the judiciary is imprisoning people walking in the road for simply speaking out about it,” the activist continued, citing a recent road-blocking campaign in the Netherlands. “To not resist the criminality of our governments at this time in history, is a dereliction of our moral and civic duties.”