Two climate change protesters glued themselves to the frame of John Constable’s masterpiece The Hay Wain.
The Just Stop Oil (JSO) protesters also attached their own image of “an apocalyptic vision of the future” of the landscape, on three large sheets of paper, featuring an old car dumped in front of the Mill and the Hay Wain cart carrying an old washing machine.
The protesters struck at central London’s National Gallery (NG) at 2.15pm on Monday, forcing the evacuation of art lovers, tourists and a class of 11-year-old children on a school trip from the room where the painting hangs.
They were later named by JSO as music student Eben Lazarus, 22, and psychology student Hannah Hunt, 23, both of Brighton.
They wore white T-shirts with the logo Just Stop Oil, stepped over a rope barrier and then placed the printed coloured paper on to the front of the painting.
Each also placed a hand on the frame of the painting and kneeled beneath it before loudly outlining their concerns as visitors were ushered out by security staff.
During the protest Lazarus, who described himself himself as an art lover, said: “Art is important. It should be held for future generations to see, but when there is no food what use is art.
“When there is no water, what use is art. When billions of people are in pain and suffering, what use then is art.”
The reimagined version carries a nightmare scene that demonstrates how oil will destroy our countryside. The river has gone, to be replaced by a road, airplanes fill the sky, pollution belches from cities on the horizon, trees are scorched by wildfires.
— JustStopOil (@JustStop_Oil) July 4, 2022
The Hay Wain, which was painted in 1821, is one of the most popular paintings at the gallery and shows a rural Suffolk scene of a wagon returning to the fields across a shallow ford for another load.
Lazarus said: “We have stuck a reimagined version of the Hay Wain that demonstrates our road to disaster.”
Hunt later said “the disruption will end when the UK Government makes a meaningful statement that it will end new oil and gas licences”.
She added: “I’m here because our government plans to license 40 new UK oil and gas projects in the next few years.
“This makes them complicit in pushing the world towards an unliveable climate and in the death of billions of people in the coming decades.
“You can forget our ‘green and pleasant land’ when further oil extraction will lead to widespread crop failures which means we will be fighting for food. Ultimately, new fossil fuels are a death project by our Government.
“So yes, there is glue on the frame of this painting but there is blood on the hands of our government.”
A spokesman for the NG said the room was closed to the public and police were called.
They said later: “The painting was removed from the wall to be examined by our conservation team. The Hay Wain suffered minor damage to its frame and there was also some disruption to the surface of the varnish on the painting – both of which have now been successfully dealt with.
“The painting will be rehung in Room 34 ready for when the National Gallery opens at 10am on Tuesday.”
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “At approximately 14.25 on Monday officers were called to a protest taking place inside the National Gallery involving two people.
“Two people were arrested.”
It is the latest demonstration by the group which in the past week has allegedly targeted a Scottish art gallery and stormed Sunday’s British Grand Prix.