Two activists were arrested Monday at London’s National Gallery after attacking The Toilet of Venus by Diego Velázquez “with what appeared to be emergency rescue hammers,” the British institution said in a post on X. The incident occurred just before 11 a.m. local time. The painting has been removed from display so it can be inspected by the museum’s conservators.
A video posted by the activist group Just Stop Oil on X shows two people wearing white t-shirts emblazoned with the words Just Stop Oil in bold, black letters, stepping over a low guard rope in front of the Venus painting, before repeatedly smashing the glass the protects the painting. After several blows, the two turn and drop their weapons before appearing to address the visitors in the gallery.
“Women did not get the vote by voting,” one of the activists says in the video. “It is time for deeds and not words. It is time to just stop oil.” The second activist then continues, “Politics is failing us. Politics failed woman in 1914. If millions will die due to new oil and gas licensing, if we love art, if we love our families, we must just stop oil.” The activists then sit in front of the work, holding hands. The video is then overlaid with a promotion for a proposed march through London, organized by the group and set for November 18.
The work, also known as “The Rokeby Venus”, is among the most treasured in the National Gallery’s collection. Executed between between 1647 and 1651, the picture shows the Roman goddess Venus, naked, lying with her back facing the viewer and gazing into a mirror held by her son, Cupid, her reflection in clear view.
This is the second time the painting was attacked. The first, as referenced by the activists, was in 1914 when the suffragette Mary Richardson walked into the National Gallery and attacked the work with a meat cleaver, leaving seven deep gashes in Venus’s body. The work was later fully restored.