The stunt, the latest direct action demonstration by climate change activists, saw the duo from the “Just Stop Oil” group glue their fingers to the Dutch master’s “Peach Trees in Blossom”.
The oil on canvas work painted in 1889 is part of a Van Gogh collection hanging at the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House in the British capital.
It comes the day after five members of the group, which wants a halt to all new UK fossil fuel projects, were arrested over a similarly disruptive protest at an art museum in Glasgow.
“We don’t want to be doing this,” Louis McKechnie, one of the pair claiming to have attached himself to the Van Gogh work, told onlookers at the London gallery, according to footage shared by “Just Stop Oil”.
“We’re here glued to this painting — this beautiful painting — because we’re terrified for our future,” the 21-year-old added, noting he and his fellow activist expected to be arrested.
“If there was any other way of getting the change we need, we would’ve done it — we’ve tried everything else.”
The Courtauld confirmed the incident took place mid-afternoon and prompted the closure of the gallery in which the painting hangs for the rest of Thursday.
“We expect The Courtauld Gallery to reopen to the public as normal tomorrow,” it added in a statement.
McKechnie, a former engineering student who has already been arrested 20 times and spent six weeks in prison, is fast becoming one of the most recognisable faces among Britain’s climate change activists.
In March, he risked the wrath of football fans when he tied himself to a goalpost in the middle of a match between Newcastle and Everton.
He told AFP earlier this month that he was prepared to become “public enemy number one” over his direct actions.
In the video from the gallery Thursday, McKechnie accused the UK government of “pushing through over 40 new fossil fuel projects” which were “like signing our death warrants”.
“My generation has no other choice but to take this kind of action,” he added.
On Wednesday, Britain’s independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) warned that the British government was failing to make adequate progress meeting targets in its new net-zero strategy to be carbon neutral by 2050.
That prompted campaign group Greenpeace UK, business groups and opposition politicians to urge ministers to ramp up delivering on climate change policies.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has recently reviewed its energy strategy, including provision of nuclear, wind and solar power.
But it is also examining fossil fuel projects in the North Sea, as part of attempts to safeguard domestic supplies after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. AFP