Environmental Activists Throw Cans of Soup at Famous Van Gogh Artwork

Why would an environmental protest group throw cans of soup at a famous painting?


Just Stop Oil Instagram Page

Just Stop Oil activists in the gallery in London after throwing soup on the painting.

Aubrey LaPointe, Staff Writer

Two young women threw cans of soup at Vincent Van Gogh’s oil painting ‘Sunflowers’ on October 14th. They are part of the environmental activist group Just Stop Oil. 

Just Stop Oil is an environmental activist group in the United Kingdom using civil resistance and direct action with the aim of ensuring the UK Government commits to stopping new fossil fuel licensing and production.  It launched on February 14th, 2022, and held a month of oil terminal disruptions across England in April 2022. The group has garnered criticism for its aggressive protest methods, such as vandalism. 

These two women, ages 20 and 21, threw two cans of Heinz tomato soup at this painting at the National Gallery in London. They then glued one of their hands to the wall underneath the painting. The two women were later arrested for criminal damage and aggravated trespassing. 

“Sunflowers” by Van Gogh is one of his most popular paintings right next to Starry Night. This is one of the paintings that has been reproduced on most coffee mugs, posters, tea towels, cards, etc. Its estimated value is more than $82 million. No damage was done to the painting itself due to the protective glass that surrounds it. However, the painting’s frame received minor damage.

Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, “Sunflowers,” was made in 1888 using oil on canvas. (National Gallery, London)

Just Stop Oil has many different arguments which makes it quite hard to tell what they really stand for. 

The first argument is that after they threw their cans of soup at this famous artwork and glued themselves to the wall, one of the women stated, “What is worth more, art or life? The cost of living crisis is part of the cost of the oil crisis.” She also states that the cost of oil is unaffordable to “millions of cold hungry families who can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup.” Keep in mind, she says this as she throws a can of soup at a painting. So you might wonder why they are using soup to throw at a painting rather than using their resources to provide food instead of wasting it.

The second argument was stated in an interview the day after the soup incident. The question of ‘what were they trying to achieve by throwing soup at a painting’ was answered by the same woman that stated the first argument. “What we’re doing is getting the conversation going,“ she stated, “so we can ask the questions that matter.” 

Another argument was addressed by a woman participating in a road-blocking sit-in. Diana, 77, stated why she participated in the sit-in, “oil is killing us all over the world.”

Diana, 77, explains why she stepped up into Civil Resistance. (Just Stop Oil Instagram)

It is safe to say that Just Stop Oil is pushing to end the exploration, development, and production of fossil fuels. 

Some people would agree with Just Stop Oil’s tactics. On the other hand, many others believe that their cause is admirable, but their way of achieving their goal is “beyond stupid and immature.”

Just Stop Oil’s goal is not for people to like them, but to get people talking, thinking, and acting on climate change more and for the issue of ending fossil fuel extraction to be raised in our consciousness.

Antique oil paintings are worth quite a lot, but are they really worth the cost to our planet?