Just Stop Oil: two activists arrested for smashing glass protecting Rokeby Venus at National Portrait Gallery

The Rokeby Venus has famously been vandalised once before, by a suffragette in 1914

Two Just Stop Oil activists have been arrested for smashing the glass protecting a 17th century painting at London's National Portrait Gallery.

The climate activist group posted on social media that two supporters had smashed the glass protecting the Rokeby Venus - a 17th century painting famously slashed by suffragette Mary Richardson in 1914. The group said it was in response to the government revealing plans for more oil licences, "knowing it will kill millions".

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This comes after media reports that the King's Speech may include a proposed government policy which would "lock in" oil and gas exploration licensing rounds each year for future governments. The BBC reports this could be a political trap for Labour, which plans to block new domestic fossil fuel exploration licences if it comes into power in the next general election.

In a statement posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, the Metropolitan Police said: "Two Just Stop Oil activists have been arrested for criminal damage. The glass protecting a painting at the National Portrait Gallery has been vandalised."

The glass protecting the Rokeby Venus was shattered with safety hammers, the group claimed (Just Stop Oil/Supplied)The glass protecting the Rokeby Venus was shattered with safety hammers, the group claimed (Just Stop Oil/Supplied)
The glass protecting the Rokeby Venus was shattered with safety hammers, the group claimed (Just Stop Oil/Supplied) | Just Stop Oil

Just Stop Oil say the two young activists, aged 20 and 22, used safety hammers to smash the glass covering the Rokeby Venus shortly before 11am. They then addressed the gallery, saying: "Women did not get the vote by voting, it is time for deeds not words. It is time to Just Stop Oil."

They continued: "Politics is failing us. It failed women in 1914 and it is failing us now. New oil and gas will kill millions. If we love art, if we love life, if we love our families we must Just Stop Oil."

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The Rokeby Venus was famously slashed in the National Gallery by the suffragette Mary Richardson in 1914. Richardson left seven slashes on the painting, damaging the area between the figure's shoulders, however, all were successfully repaired. Richardson's action was in resistance to the UK government's imprisonment of Emmeline Pankhurst at the time.

After the incident, she said: "I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history."

This is not the first time Just Stop Oil has taken aim at artworks in its protests, with the climate action group making international headlines after a pair of protesters threw a can of soup at Van Gogh's famous 'Sunflowers' painting. The painting, behind a glass screen, was undamaged.

Other recent protest actions by the group have included spraying orange paint over a replicate dinosaur skeleton at London’s Natural History Museum, and a series of actions targeting well known UK university buildings.

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