At Large  November 6, 2023  Rebecca Schiffman

Activists Attack Diego Velázquez’s Venus at London's National Gallery

Just Stop Oil Twitter

Video still of Just Stop Oil activists standing by the Rokeby Venus after hitting the protective glass with safety hammers.

Just Stop Oil protestors have just been arrested after possibly the most damaging attack on art by the activist group thus far. On the morning of November 6, the pair entered the National Gallery in London and struck The Toilet of Venus (The Rokeby Venus) by Diego Velázquez with, as the institution said on X, “what appeared to be emergency rescue hammers.” The painting has now been removed from display so it can be examined by conservators.

This is not the first time the Rokeby Venus has been attacked by protestors: in 1914, suffragette Mary Richardson slashed the work seven times with a meat cleaver – it was later completely restored. 

Today's attack of Velazquez’s masterpiece came as a response to the UK government's July announcement that over 100 new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea would be granted. This has outraged many environmentalists because it includes new drillings for fossil fuels and new “clusters” for carbon capture usage and storage. Philip Evans of Greenpeace said that relying on fossil fuels is “terrible for our energy security, the cost of living, and the climate.” 

The activists today referenced the suffragette before taking action, and a video posted by the activist group on X chronicles the attack: the pair, wearing T-shirts with the Just Stop Oil logo, begin to hit the glass on the painting, striking it eight times. They then drop the emergency hammers and begin to address those in the gallery. When they finished, they sat down in front of the work. 

Women did not get the vote by voting; it is time for deeds, not words," said the first protestor.  "It is time to Just Stop Oil.” The second continued, “If millions will die due to new oil and gas licensing, if we love art, if we love our families, we must just stop oil.” 

Outside the museum, there were at least 40 activists marching in Whitehall, just outside the museum, with some activists lying down on the road, according to The Guardian. Just Stop Oil said on X that they were marching towards Parliament Square before being arrested by police for protesting. The Metropolitan Police, have been actively updating their X feed with images and reasonings for arresting the protesters in a thread. They first explained that they’ve asked activists to get off the road, and if they fail to engage, the police will make arrests “under Section Seven of the Public Order Act.” A short while later, they tweeted that they are now making arrests under that act, with a summary of the law attached. 

As for Just Stop Oil, this attack was seemingly just to grab the public’s attention. At the end of the address by the two activists, they promoted an organized march through London by Just Stop Oil , which is set to take place on November 18.

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