The Soup Saga of Just Stop Oil and Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is not the only artwork that has faced the consequences of climate change this year. Earlier this year the Mona Lisa had custard splattered over her, with her vandal proclaiming that there was not enough focus on “the planet”. These instances demand that focus be taken away from artwork and driven back to, what they believe, to be the reals issue of our generation. Climate activists are posing the question of the importance of life versus the importance of art. With the cost of living crisis causing financial stress and strain on the UK, the question has validity. Should artwork that is worth a fortune be more important than children going hungry or the elderly without heating?

In the case of Sunflowers, two climate activists threw tomato soup over it, expressing their opinion regarding the current climate crisis. The two individuals, Anna Holland and Phoebe Plummer, shouted how the cost of living crisis, widespread across the UK, has led to families not being able to heat tins of soup. Representing Just Stop Oil, the activists used direct action to make a statement on the current situation in the UK. This kind of climate activism is at a particular high. As of September 2022, the Government lifted the ban on fracking for shale gas, in a bid to combat the gas shortages caused by the conflict with Ukraine-Russia but this bid has sparked criticism and waves of climate change demonstrations.

To stir the pot further, Sunflowers is displayed to the Public in Room 43 of The National Gallery. Between 2006 and 2018 The National Gallery was sponsored by Shell, a fossil fuel company, ultimately showing the link between art and oil. It is unsurprising that Just Stop Oil have attacked one of the most famous and celebrated artworks within the National Gallery, due to this previous funding. Just look on the Gallery website and you’ll find Sunflowers in pride of place on the ‘highlights from the collection’ page along with 29 other ‘must sees,’ out of the 2,600 other artworks the gallery has accumulated. This was no random attack, this is hitting the gallery and it’s sponsors where it hurts. 

Whilst throwing soup or custard onto artwork probably won’t cause the change that these activists want for the climate long term, it does grab headlines. Even though there has been no lasting damage to the artwork, many people have been angered by the act of vandalism, posing the question of whether Just Stop Oil have hindered their progress with popularity. The soup saga has been in the news for several days, especially given the fact that Holland and Plummer have pleaded not guilty to criminal damage. Ultimately, part of the Just Stop Oil aim was reached. People are talking about the climate crisis, what is funded by oil companies and the cost of living crisis. However, it is unlikely that action will be taken within Parliament that would have legal and long-term impacts due to some soup on a sunflower painting.

Image “Vincent van Gogh: Sunflowers (1889)” by Kennisland is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.