Environmentalists in Vienna deface Gustav Klimt’s 1915 ‘Death and Life’ painting with ‘black oily liquid’

Climate activists in Austria defaced a famous painting in a Vienna museum on Tuesday, the latest in a string of such protests targeting priceless works of art in a call to action against fossil fuels.

Members of an activist group called Last Generation posted pictures and video online Tuesday showing a protester pouring “black, oily liquid” on Gustav Klimt’s “Death and Life” painting at the Leopold Museum before security intervened. Another activist can be seen attempting to glue himself to the protective barrier in front of the painting.

“New oil and gas drilling is a death sentence to humanity,” Last Generation tweeted after the stunt.

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Climate protesters dumped black liquid on the Gustav Klimt “Death and Life” painting displayed in a Vienna museum Tuesday. “People still searching and drilling for new oil and gas have blood on their hands – and no amount of sponsoring will ever wash that blood off,” the activist group said. “There can be no clean art with dirty money involved!”
(Letzte Generation ?sterreich)

The group is demanding laws that would lower highway speed limits to 100km/h (roughly 62 mph), which they claim would save 460 million tons of CO2 per year in Austria and reduce noise and air pollution.

Last Generation staged the protest on a day when the public was given free admission to the museum for St. Leopold’s Day, in an event sponsored by OMV, an oil and gas company.

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A man films “Death and Life,” a painting by Gustav Klimt, at Leopold Museum in Vienna, Jan. 28, 2016.
(Vladimir Simicek/AFP via Getty Images)

“People still searching and drilling for new oil and gas have blood on their hands – and no amount of sponsoring will ever wash that blood off,” the activist group said. “There can be no clean art with dirty money involved!”

Climate activists from varying groups have in recent months attempted to deface paintings and glue themselves to other works of art in museums through Europe. On Nov. 11, radical environmentalists in Norway tried and failed to glue themselves to Edvard Munch’s 1889 “The Scream” painting in a museum in Oslo. Last month, two activists were arrested in London, England, after hurling cans of tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” painting.

Two protesters kneel after throwing soup at Vincent van Gogh’s famous 1888 work “Sunflowers” at the National Gallery in London, Oct. 14, 2022.
(Just Stop Oil via AP)

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People view Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” at the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, Jan. 13, 2019.
(Heiko Junge/NTB Scanpix via AP, file)

Museum officials told reporters at a news conference that the museum had increased security after these recent attacks and Klimt’s 1915 work “Death and Life” was unharmed by Tuesday’s protest.

“Fortunately the work of art was not damaged. Nonetheless, we are shocked that the Leopold Museum was in focus here,” museological director Hans-Peter Wipplinger said at a news conference, according to Reuters.

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While Wipplinger said the museum sympathized with the activists’ caused, he condemned the protest and said Last Generation would be billed for the police deployment and cleanup, estimating the cost to be at least five figures in euros.

It is unclear if the activists were arrested.