Climate activists smash glass protecting Velazquez’s Venus painting in London’s National Gallery

LONDON — Two climate change protesters were arrested Monday after they smashed a protective glass panel covering a famous Diego Velázquez oil painting at London’s National Gallery, police said Monday.

The two activists from the group Just Stop Oil targeted Velázquez’s “The Toilet of Venus,” also known as “The Rokeby Venus,” with small hammers. Photos showed the protective glass panel punctured with several holes.

Just Stop Oil, which has previously led similar protests targeting famous artworks and public buildings, said Monday’s action was to demand Britain’s government immediately halt all licensing for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the U.K.

The group said Monday that the two activists chose to target Velázquez’s 17th-century oil painting, one of the Spanish artist’s most celebrated masterpieces, because it was previously slashed as part of the suffragette movement calling for women’s rights in 1914.

Just Stop Oil said the protesters hammered the glass panel, then told people at the gallery: “Women did not get the vote by voting. It is time for deeds, not words.”

“Politics is failing us. It failed women in 1914 and it is failing us now,” they added.

Police said the two were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage. The National Gallery said the painting has been removed from display so conservators can examine it.

“The pair appeared to strike ‘The Toilet of Venus’ (‘The Rokeby Venus’) by Velázquez with what appeared to be emergency rescue hammers. The room was cleared of visitors and police were called,” the museum said in a statement.

The room was reopened shortly afterward with another painting replacing the Velázquez where it was hung, the museum added.

“The Toilet of Venus” depicts a naked Venus, the goddess of love, reclining on a bed with her back facing the viewer, as her son Cupid holds a mirror up to her face.

The painting was targeted in 1914 by the suffragette Mary Richardson to protest the imprisonment of fellow women’s rights activist Emmeline Pankhurst. The painting suffered several slashes at the time but was subsequently repaired.

Police said officers also arrested dozens of other Just Stop Oil protesters on Monday who were “slow marching” and obstructing traffic in central London’s Whitehall as part of their civil disobedience strategy.

Last year two activists threw two cans of tomato soup over Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” also at the National Gallery, to protest fossil fuel extraction. They did not damage the painting, which was covered with glass.

Part of a wave of youthful direct-action protest groups around the world, Just Stop Oil is backed by the U.S.-based Climate Emergency Fund, set up to support disruptive environmental protests.

Just Stop Oil activists have repeatedly staged multiple high-profile protests at the busiest highways and roads as well as sports tournaments.

In July, British authorities expanded police power allowing them to target activists who stop traffic and to move static protests.

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