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Why Was Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” Drenched in Tomato Soup Last Week?

Margaret Lipman
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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<>Last week, in room 43 of London’s National Gallery, Vincent Van Gogh’s "Sunflowers" was drenched in tomato soup. Two protesters wearing T-shirts with the "Just Stop Oil" logo threw soup on the painting before gluing their hands to the wall. But why is a famous work of art, valued at an estimated $84.2 million USD, the target of this activist group? Phoebe Plummer, 21, and Anna Holland, 20, wanted to draw attention to the damaging effects of the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels. Just Stop Oil is calling for an end to the new licensing and production of fossil fuels and demanding a move to renewable energy sources.

Plummer explained to onlookers how the use of fossil fuels directly contributes to the UK's cost-of-living crisis, declaring that “fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families” who “can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup.” This is not the first time a work of art has been targeted by Just Stop Oil. In June, two activists glued themselves to the frame of Van Gogh’s "Peach Trees in Blossom" at London's Courtauld Gallery, and at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery, demonstrators spray-painted "Just Stop Oil" next to Horatio McCulloch’s "My Heart’s in the Highlands." Alongside tampering with famous artwork, Just Stop Oil has orchestrated other nonviolent demonstrations such as sit-down protests on roads, spray painting storefronts, climbing on top of the M25 Dartford Crossing bridge, and blocking a major motorway.

Plummer and Holland were arrested for criminal damage and aggravated trespass but were released on bail on the condition that they don’t enter public spaces with paint or adhesives again. In a statement, the National Gallery said the painting was undamaged due to its glass covering, a factor Just Stop Oil said they considered in their choice of that painting. Despite the arrests, Just Stop Oil has not been discouraged and stated “our supporters will be returning – today, tomorrow and the next day – and the next day after that – and every day until our demand is met: no new oil and gas in the UK.”

Two Van Gogh facts ... and one on tomatoes:

  • Before committing to the life of an artist at the age of 27, Van Gogh had already worked as a lay minister, bookseller, teacher, and art dealer.

  • Van Gogh did not reach international acclaim during his lifetime and was thought to have sold only one painting.

  • Tomatoes belong to the same plant family as deadly nightshade and were considered poisonous up to the 19th century.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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