Protesters from Just Stop Oil cover John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery in London this afternoon
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Just Stop Oil activists provoked fury today as they carried out a protest at the National Gallery by covering John Constable’s The Hay Wain with their own version featuring double yellow lines, pollution and a washing machine.

Two students who are eco demonstrators covered the world-famous painting in London with a mock ‘undated’ version including aircraft, before gluing their hands to the frame in a protest against UK oil and gas projects.

The group said their reimagined version of the 1821 priceless work, which depicts a rural scene on the River Stour in Suffolk, shows a ‘nightmare scene that demonstrates how oil will destroy our countryside’.

Art historians and experts have all raised concerns that the vandals, two Brighton university students who have appeared at Just Stop Oil protests before, could have caused irreparable damage to the 19th century masterpiece.

Dr Adrian Hilton, who is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, said today: ‘How is this even possible in the National Gallery? I mean, it’s a John Constable masterpiece; a national treasure. Is it really this easy to paper over or – God forbid – destroy it?’

Other art lovers reacted with fury today, with one tweeting: ‘Never mind about these losers. Where is the security? What were the guards doing while they stuck the ‘reimagined version’ on the original? Checking their WhatsApps?’

Another added: ‘Disgusting, please stop damaging historic and fragile paintings enjoyed by ordinary people in our national galleries and museums. Pls find another way to get your ‘message’ (whatever it consists of) across!’

And a third said: ‘Unbelievably reckless. The wrong target. Art is not the target. It’s so poorly judged. It sets back the net zero and climate debate by alienating the public. Art is not a legitimate target. This is childish, destructive and naive.’

The protesters were removed and arrested at 4.45pm and taken off site, and the painting was taken off the wall by staff at the gallery. Conservators are now taking a look at the work to assess whether any damage has been caused – but they have not got an estimate on any damage at this early stage.

Just Stop Oil activists have carried out similar protests over the past week at art galleries in Glasgow, Manchester and London – while a group also sat down on the track at Silverstone during the British Grand Prix yesterday. 

Today’s incident, which took place as security guards at the gallery watched on, will prompt concerns about the safety of other historic works of art on display in the UK – and whether security needs to be improved. 

It also comes in contrast to police quickly arresting 12 motorists for driving too slow during a protest on the M4 in South Wales over petrol and diesel prices. Fuel protests have been taking place across the UK today as drivers call for a cut in fuel duty, gridlocking motorways and major A-routes with a series of rolling go-slow roadblocks.

At the National Gallery, the protesters – who wore white T-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Just Stop Oil’ – stepped over a rope barrier and then placed what looked like a large colour paper print on to the front of the large-scale painting.

Each also placed a hand on the frame of the painting and kneeled beneath it before loudly stating their concerns as visitors were ushered out by security staff. The protest forced 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.

A National Gallery spokesman told MailOnline today: ‘At around 2.15pm this afternoon, two people entered Room 34 of the National Gallery and appeared to glue themselves to the frame of The Hay Wain by John Constable.

‘They also covered the surface of the painting with three sheets of what appears to be paper featuring a reimagined version of The Hay Wain. The pair appear to be Just Stop Oil activists. The room has been closed to the public and police have been called. Gallery staff – including members of the conservation team – are also in attendance.’

And a Metropolitan Police spokesman said: ‘At approximately 2.25pm on Monday, 4 July officers were called to a protest taking place inside the National Gallery, WC2 involving two people. Two people have been arrested and officers remain on scene.’

Speaking about their new version of The Hay Wain, Just Stop Oil said in a statement today: ‘The river has been replaced by a road, airplanes fill the sky, pollution belches from cities on the horizon, trees are scorched by wildfires, an old car is dumped in front of the Mill and the famous Hay Wain cart carries an old washing machine.’

Protesters from Just Stop Oil cover John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery in London this afternoon

Protesters from Just Stop Oil cover John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery in London this afternoon

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil cover John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery in London this afternoon

Protesters from Just Stop Oil cover John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery in London this afternoon

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

ORIGINAL PAINTING - The Hay Wain, which was painted in 1821, is one of the most popular paintings at the National Gallery and shows a rural Suffolk scene a wagon returning to the fields across a shallow ford for another load

ORIGINAL PAINTING – The Hay Wain, which was painted in 1821, is one of the most popular paintings at the National Gallery and shows a rural Suffolk scene a wagon returning to the fields across a shallow ford for another load

Among today’s protesters was Hannah Hunt, 23, a psychology student from Brighton, who said: ‘I’m here because our government plans to licence 40 new UK oil and gas projects in the next few years. This makes them complicit in pushing the world towards an unlivable climate and in the death of billions of people in the coming decades.

‘We can forget our ‘green and pleasant land’ as 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 famous painting, but there is blood on the hands of our government. The disruption will end as soon as the UK government makes a meaningful statement that it will end new oil and gas licenses.’

How John Constable and The Hay Wain have a special place in history

Born in Suffolk in 1776, John Constable is considered one of the foremost British artists.

Largely self-taught, he was influenced by Dutch painters – and is best known for his landscape paintings in Dedham Vale, the area in which he grew up.

His most famous painting, The Hay Wain, is now exhibited at the National Gallery. Finished in 1821, The Hay Wain was one of six large canvases depicting the area around Flatford Mill in Suffolk.

Another in the series, The Lock, became one of the most expensive British paintings ever sold when it fetched £22.4million at auction in 2012.

Despite his works now attracting huge fees, Constable was not financially successful in life. He also struggled to gain recognition from his peers and was not elected into the Royal Academy until the age of 52.

He died in March 1837, aged 60, of apparent heart failure, and was buried with his wife. His children John and Charles are also buried in the tomb.

And Eben Lazarus, 22, a music student from Brighton, said: ‘I support Just Stop Oil’s demand for our government to halt all new oil and gas projects in the UK immediately. 

‘I want to work in the arts, not disrupt them, but the situation we’re in, means we must do everything we peacefully can to prevent the total collapse of our ordered society.

‘I have a number of younger siblings, the youngest are just ten and twelve, and I refuse to stand and watch them being condemned to a future of suffering. Our government is failing in its fundamental duty to protect us.

‘We have covered the Hay Wain with a reimagined version that illustrates the expected impact of our addiction to fossil fuels on our countryside. The painting is an important part of our heritage, but it is not more important than the 3.5 billion men, women and children already in danger because of the climate crisis.’

Last week, Just Stop Oil activists carried out similar protests in Glasgow, Manchester and London by gluing onto the frames of famous paintings including Van Gogh’s ‘Peach Trees in Blossom’, ‘Thomson’s Aeolian Harp’ by JMW Turner and ‘My Heart’s in the Highlands’ by Horatio McCulloch.

Paul Bell 21, a physics graduate from Birmingham, and Edred Whittingham, 24, a student at Exeter University, have now been released from police custody after their action at the Manchester Art Gallery on Friday.

They were released on unconditional bail to appear in court on October 5.

It comes as the Just Stop Oil protesters who stormed yesterday’s British Grand Prix remain in police custody after Formula One boss Stefano Domenicali labelled their actions as ‘dangerous and irresponsible’.

Five men, aged between 21 and 46, and two women, 20 and 44, were arrested after the track invasion on the opening lap at Silverstone.

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil cover John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery in London this afternoon

Protesters from Just Stop Oil cover John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery in London this afternoon

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil cover John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery in London this afternoon

Protesters from Just Stop Oil cover John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery in London this afternoon

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Although the incident was not shown on F1’s global television feed, eyewitness footage emerged of five people entering the circuit at the high-speed Wellington Straight. They then sat down on the track.

The race had just been suspended following Zhou Guanyu’s horror first-corner crash, but a number of drivers sped by the quintet as they returned to the pits. The protesters were swiftly dragged away by marshals.

In his post-race press conference, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton defended the activists.

He said: ‘Big up those guys. Big up the protesters. I love that people are fighting for the planet and we need more people like them.’

Later on Instagram, the 37-year-old wrote: ‘As we’ve seen today, this is a dangerous sport.

‘I wasn’t aware of the protests today, and while I’ll always support those standing up for what they believe in, it must be done safely. Please don’t jump on to our race circuits to protest, we don’t want to put you in harm’s way.’

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Protesters from Just Stop Oil cover John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery in London this afternoon

Protesters from Just Stop Oil cover John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery in London this afternoon

F1 bosses and Silverstone officials had been alerted to a protest plot in the days leading up to the race by Northamptonshire Police. It remains unclear how the protesters managed to breach security lines.

F1 CEO Domenicali said: ‘Everyone has the right to speak out on issues, but no one has the right to put lives in danger. The actions of a small group of people were completely irresponsible and dangerous.

‘We shouldn’t be complacent about the risk this posed to the safety of the drivers, marshals, fans and the individuals themselves.’

But four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, an environmental campaigner, expressed his sympathy towards the activists.

He said: ‘These people don’t act out of frustration, but they are desperate, and I very much sympathise with their fears and their anxieties which I think everybody who understands the size of the problem that’s drifting towards us can understand.

LAST WEEK - A worker silenced Just Stop Oil protesters last Friday after they glued themselves to a painting in Manchester

LAST WEEK – A worker silenced Just Stop Oil protesters last Friday after they glued themselves to a painting in Manchester 

LAST WEEK - Protesters glued themselves to 'Thomson's Aeolian Harp' by JMW Turner at Manchester Art Gallery last Friday

LAST WEEK – Protesters glued themselves to ‘Thomson’s Aeolian Harp’ by JMW Turner at Manchester Art Gallery last Friday

2013 — A protester connected to Fathers 4 Justice glued a photograph of a young boy to the painting at the National Gallery

‘I also see the other side. Marshals are trying to stop people from doing these kind of things, and you are putting them, and the drivers, at risk.’

Former England striker Gary Lineker sided with the climate activists, tweeting: ‘If it’s not already too late, history will look back very favourably on these people.’

But Sky F1 pundit, and former driver, Martin Brundle took umbrage with Lineker’s tweet, replying: ‘Gary please don’t encourage this reckless behaviour.

‘They’d have been sliced into 100 pieces and fans, marshals and drivers were wholly at risk of injury and death. We already had one lucky escape. I totally 100 per cent support freedom of speech and opinion, but do it responsibly.’

Just Stop Oil is a protest group demanding that the Government ‘immediately halts all future licensing and consents for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the UK’. 

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