The Hay Wain: Climate protesters cling to a masterpiece at London’s National Gallery

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

Two climate activists taped to a 200-year-old masterpiece at London’s National Gallery on Monday, the latest in a series of disruptive protests by British environmental group Just Stop Oil.

The couple covered John Constable’s famous landscape painting, The Hay Wain, with a modified version of the image before holding their hands to the frame.

The demonstration comes just a day after five Just Stop Oil activists disrupted the Formula 1 British Grand Prix by sitting on the Silverstone circuit. Last week, members of the group also found themselves glued to the frames of paintings in London, Glasgow and Manchester, including Vincent van Gogh’s famous Peach Trees in Blossom.
Activists taped their hands to the frame

Activists taped their hands to the frame of The Hay Wain after covering it with a mock version of the painting. Recognition: Carlos Jasso/AFP/Getty Images

Completed in 1821, The Hay Wain is one of Britain’s best-known works of art. It depicts the River Stour dividing the English counties of Suffolk and Essex and is considered one of Constable’s most important paintings.

The protesters’ modified version saw the river replaced with a paved road, with factory chimneys in the background and planes flying overhead.

Just Stop Oil, which is calling on the UK government to suspend licenses for future oil and gas exploration, has since identified the protesters as students Hannah Hunt and Eben Lazarus. London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed to CNN that two people were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and later released on bail pending further investigation.

In a video of Monday’s incident, posted to Just Stop Oil’s Twitter account, Lazarus, a 22-year-old music student, can be heard telling viewers that the “reimagined” version of the painting “has the most destructive nature of our dependence on oil.”

“I want to work in art, not disturb it,” he is heard to say. “But the situation we find ourselves in means we must do everything that is nonviolently possible to prevent the civilizational collapse we are headed for.”

The National Gallery said the painting was removed from view after the incident and has since been examined by restorers.

“The frame of ‘The Hay Wain’ has suffered minor damage and there has also been some surface imperfections to the paintwork on the painting – both of which have now been successfully addressed,” the gallery told CNN in a statement, adding the painting will be on display as of Tuesday morning exhibited again.

Just Stop Oil climate activists also taped themselves to a Van Gogh painting at London's Courtauld Gallery last week.

Just Stop Oil climate activists also taped themselves to a Van Gogh painting at London’s Courtauld Gallery last week. Recognition: Kristian Buus/In Pictures/Getty Images

Established in early 2022, Just Stop Oil has launched several high-profile protests over the past few months. In March, a Premier League football match was disrupted when a protester tied himself to one of the goalposts.

Last month, four supporters of the group covered the outside wall and steps of the UK Government’s Treasury with red paint.

In a press release from the group on Monday, Hunt, 23, said the protests would not end until “the UK government makes a meaningful statement that it will end new oil and gas licences”.

“Ultimately, new fossil fuels are a death project from our government,” the psychology student is quoted as saying.

“So yes, there is glue on the frame of this painting, but there is blood on the hands of our government.”

Caption above: Just Stop Oil activists tape to the frame of John Constable’s painting ‘The Hay Wain’ at London’s National Gallery.