Climate protester glues his head to 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' painting

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Climate protester glues his head to 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' painting
The artwork by Johannes Vermeer, exhibited in The Hague, was the latest artwork to be targeted by protesters concerned about climate change. One person glued his head to the painting and another glued his hand to the wall.

by Christine Chung

NEW YORK, NY.- A climate protester glued his head to “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” the famous painting by Johannes Vermeer that was on exhibit at a museum in The Hague on Thursday, the latest in a series of actions by activists that have targeted world-renowned paintings in recent months as the protesters have sought to draw attention to climate change.

The stunts have recently included hurling mashed potatoes at a painting by Claude Monet and splattering soup on a painting by Vincent van Gogh.

Vermeer’s much-celebrated painting from 1665 is part of the collection at the Mauritshuis, a small museum exhibiting Dutch and Flemish paintings from the 17th century.

The one-minute video clip of the action shows a man coming close to the painting and gluing his head to it. At the same time, another man adheres his hand to the wall next to the artwork and pours a red substance on the first man’s head and body.

The protester who glued his hand to the wall addresses onlookers who have gathered around. People can be heard gasping, expressing their outrage and calling the pair “obscene.”

“How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless being apparently destroyed before your eyes?” the protester said. “Do you feel outraged? Good. Where is that feeling when you see the planet being destroyed before your very eyes?”

He then assures other patrons that the painting is protected by glass, a statement which seemingly does little to blunt their anger. Several people can be heard telling him to “shut up.”

René Timmermans, a spokesperson for the Mauritshuis museum, confirmed that the incident occurred around 2 p.m. local time. He said that the artwork, under a layer of glass, was not damaged and that it would be back on view “as soon as possible.”

“Art is defenseless, and the Mauritshuis firmly rejects attempts to damage it for any purpose whatsoever,” Timmermans said.

The Dutch police said on Twitter that it had made three arrests in connection to the incident.

Intrigue over the painting, depicting a luminous young woman wearing a vibrantly colored turban and an oversized, gleaming pearl earring, has grown over the decades, possibly amplified by popular depictions in a novel that explored the identity of Vermeer’s muse. The book, which shares its name with the painting and was written by Tracy Chevalier, was later adapted into a movie starring Scarlett Johansson.

Chevalier said in a statement that while she empathized with the frustration of the climate activists, she hoped they would choose targets “more obviously connected with their just cause than my favorite painting.”

“For me, seeing that painting vandalized is like watching a daughter being attacked. I’m very relieved she’s protected by glass,” she said.

There have been at least three reported actions by climate activists targeting artworks this month, which took place in London, Germany and now in the Netherlands.

The protesters who targeted “Girl With a Pearl Earring” on Thursday were wearing shirts printed with the logo of Just Stop Oil, a group opposing oil and gas projects in Britain.

Lucy Graves, a spokesperson for the group, said in a statement that it had not organized this action.

“We applaud those ordinary everyday people who refuse to stand by, who step up to act,” she said. “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.

On Oct. 14, two of the group’s members were behind the flinging of Heinz cream of tomato soup at “Sunflowers” by Vincent van Gogh, one of the most beloved paintings at the National Gallery in London.

The two young activists who tossed the soup spoke at an online meeting hosted by Just Stop Oil on Thursday. They said that the action had been empowering, even as they were fueled by fear and anger about the climate crisis and the instability it poses for their futures.

Anna Holland, a 20-year-old university student, called it the most “cathartic and therapeutic moment of my life,” and an act that was “on the right side of history.”

The other participant in the protest is concerned that they could face time in jail.

“I’m not a criminal; I’m a scared kid trying to fight for their future,” Phoebe Plummer said. “Where’s that emotional response when it’s our planet and people that are being destroyed? Where’s that shock when we are set to lose our real sunflowers?”

On Sunday, two activists with the group Last Generation glued their hands to the wall after throwing mashed potatoes on “Grainstacks” by Claude Monet at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany.

And earlier this year, in Paris, a lone activist adopted an elaborate ruse, disguising himself as woman in a wheelchair and smearing a pastry on the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum.

Ultimately, no lasting damage has been done to the artworks. They were all behind glass.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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