It seems no masterpiece is safe.
On Thursday, three climate activists were arrested by Dutch police after a protest that targeted Johannes Vermeer’s painting Girl With a Pearl Earring at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, Netherlands.
Video recorded from inside the museum showed two protesters from the organization Just Stop Oil, a U.K.-based climate campaign group, cross a short barrier to the painting before one man glued his head to the artwork. Outrage erupted in the gallery as the second protester poured a canned, red substance over the man with the glued head. The second protester also glued his own fist to the wall beside the painting.
The stunt was the most recent act by environmental protesters who have used famous paintings as a stage to make international calls for climate change action. This month, Just Stop Oil activists threw tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Protesters from the German group Letzte Generation (Last Generation) pelted Claude Monet’s Les Meules (Haystacks) with mashed potatoes. In both instances, protesters also glued themselves to the area around the paintings.
While standing in front of Girl With a Pearl Earring with their “Just Stop Oil” T-shirts revealed, one of the protesters asked the gallery, “How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless being apparently destroyed before your eyes?”
The protester continued his speech: “Do you feel outraged? Good. Where is that feeling when you see the planet being destroyed before our very eyes?”
Spectators of the display were audibly shocked and called the protesters “stupid” and “obscene.”
“Shame on you!” one woman shouted.
When the protester assured gawking onlookers that Girl With a Pearl Earring is protected behind glass, the vocal outrage lessened slightly, though calls to “Shut up and get away from there” persisted.
The activist, with his fist still glued to the wall, spoke about “the future of our children,” which he claimed is “not protected” because of climate change.
He also mentioned “fuel poverty,” which he said is forcing people to choose between “heating or eating.”
The Hauge police later confirmed three people were arrested in connection to the incident for “public violence against goods.”
René Timmermans, a spokesman for the Mauritshuis museum, told The New York Times that Girl With a Pearl Earring is protected by glass and was not damaged. The golden age painting from 1665 will return to the public gallery “as soon as possible,” Timmermans said.
“Art is defenceless, and the Mauritshuis firmly rejects attempts to damage it for any purpose whatsoever,” she said.
A Just Stop Oil representative also told The New York Times that the display in the Netherlands was not officially organized by the group.
“We applaud those ordinary everyday people who refuse to stand by, who step up to act,” said Lucy Graves. “Ending new oil and gas, our demand is supported across the world.”
“If we don’t stop the harm caused by burning fossil fuels, there will be no one to look at the masterpieces,” she said.
In July, Just Stop Oil protesters glued themselves to John Constable’s painting The Hay Wain at the National Gallery. They covered the painting from 1821 with a barren reimagining of the landscape.
Just Stop Oil protesters have also glued themselves to several other paintings this year, including van Gogh’s Peach Trees in Blossom, Thomson’s Aeolian Harp by JMW Turner and a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.