By Alexander Stone
A shocking act of vandalism took place on Saturday, February 10, 2024, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon, France. Two eco-activists from the group Riposte Alimentaire (“Food Counter-Offensive”) threw soup on a painting by Claude Monet, one of the most renowned impressionist painters of all time. The painting, titled “Spring”, depicts a bucolic scene of flowers and trees in Normandy, where Monet lived and worked. It is part of a series of paintings that Monet made to capture the changing effects of light and seasons on the landscape. The painting was on loan from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, as part of an exhibition dedicated to Monet and his contemporaries.
What was their motive?
The activists, who identified themselves as Ilona and Sophie, claimed responsibility for the attack in a video that they posted online. They said that they wanted to draw attention to the climate crisis and the role of industrial agriculture in destroying the planet. They also questioned the value of art compared to life, and the hypocrisy of the wealthy who invest in paintings while ignoring the plight of the poor and the hungry.
“Is it necessary to throw soup on a painting for you to listen? This painting will be worthless if we have to fight to find something to eat,” one of the activists said in the video.
They also compared their action to the one that took place on January 28, when two other activists from a group called Just Stop Oil threw tomato soup on the “Mona Lisa” painting by Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre Museum in Paris. They said that they were inspired by their example and that they wanted to continue the protest against the industrial food system and its influence on the art world.
“What is more valuable for everyone, art or life? Monet loved nature and captured its fragile beauty in his works. Why do many people fear more that one of these images is damaged rather than the destruction of our world itself?” they wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
What was the damage?
The museum said that the painting was protected by a glass and that it did not suffer any damage, according to the experts. The painting was removed from the exhibition and will be back on view on Wednesday. The two activists, who wore black clothes and orange vests, were arrested by the police and taken into custody.
The museum condemned the attack as an act of vandalism and said that it respected the right to peaceful protest, but not the destruction of cultural heritage. “We are shocked by this attack on a work of art that belongs to all of us,” said Sylvie Ramond, the director of the museum.
The museum also said that it was committed to sustainability and that it had implemented measures to reduce its environmental impact, such as using LED lighting, recycling materials, and promoting green mobility.
What was the reaction?
The attack sparked mixed reactions from the public and the media. Some people expressed their outrage and their support for the museum and the painting, while others sympathized with the activists and their cause. Some also criticized the high price of the painting and the inequality in the art market.
The attack also raised questions about the security of museums and the protection of artworks, especially in the context of the recent theft of five paintings by Picasso, Modigliani, Braque, and Léger from the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris.
The attack also highlighted the growing tension between the art world and the environmental movement, as well as the role of art in raising awareness and inspiring action on the climate crisis.
The attack on Monet’s “Spring” painting was a shocking and controversial act that aimed to challenge the status quo and provoke a debate on the value of art and life in the face of the climate emergency. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the activists’ message and method, one cannot deny that they succeeded in drawing attention to their cause and making a statement that will not be easily forgotten.