Soup vs Sunflowers: Why Did Activists Vandalize a Van Gogh Painting?


Kiley McGuire

Earlier this month, a video went viral in which two activists with group Just Stop Oil spilled cans of tomato soup on Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers. The activists, Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland, proceeded to superglue their hands to the wall and proclaim, “What is worth more, art or life? Is it worth more than food? Worth more than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?” The two recently had a court appearance on October 15th for the protest which occurred earlier this year.

The protest was met with a harsh response online as many were outraged with the destruction of such a beloved work of art. However, the painting was protected by glass so no damage was done whatsoever and it is now back on display at London’s National Gallery.

In a TikTok video after the event, Plummer stated, “We never, ever would’ve considered doing it if we didn’t know that it was behind glass.” They further said that the media criticism was what they intended because, “We’re using these actions to get media attention because we need to get people talking about this now.” 

Plummer perfectly describes the irony of the situation. The response has for the most part, proven the message, people are more concerned with the protection of a painting than the protection of our planet and people. Unlike the painting, which could be easily cleaned from the soup, the damage being done to the planet is irreversible. Plummer outlines some of the group’s concerns, including UK Prime Minister Truss’ subsidies for fossil fuels. In the end it appears the harmless stunt was successful in Just Stop Oil’s goal of bringing attention to their group, while also revealing the general disregard for environmental concerns.