Van Gogh painting ‘may have increased in value after protest’ Lawyer for Just Stop Oil activists tells trial

22 November 2022, 16:55

Just Stop Oil protester Emily Brocklebank arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court
Just Stop Oil protester Emily Brocklebank arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court. Picture: Alamy

By Chris Samuel

Just Stop Oil activists may have “increased” the value of a Vincent Van Gogh masterpiece after gluing themselves painting's frame at a gallery in London, their lawyer has suggested.

Climate change protestors Louis McKechnie, 22, and Emily Brocklebank, 23, are accused of causing just under £2,000 of criminal damage to the frame.

Jonathan Bryan, prosecuting, said the activists attached themselves to Van Gogh’s the Peach Trees In Blossom using super glue, at the Courtauld Gallery on June 30.

But Francesca Cociani, defending them at Westminster Magistrates’ Court today, asked Karen Serres, a curator at the gallery whether the protest could increase the painting's value.

She said: “It’s possible that this very painting has now increased in value because of the protest it was subject to by the defendants.

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“Say the institute was to sell it on in 20 to 30 years, is it possible its value would now increase?”

Ms Serres replied: “Absolutely not.”

The witness believes the painting cannot be sold, The Standard reported.

CCTV footage showed the two activists walking in the gallery at around 3.30pm after buying tickets for an exhibition, the Evening Standard reported.

They then removed their jackets to reveal Just Stop Oil T-shirts and glued themselves to the artwork.

Mr Bryan said: “They waited until the coast was clear, when the gallery attendants looked away or were perhaps distracted by another member of the group.”

The prosecutor said: “These actions did in fact cause criminal damage”.

He said the piece, which is worth “millions” wasn't damaged but the “valuable” frame was, adding: “The defendants say they were expressing their rights, under the European convention… to freedom of expression… and of assembly.

“They say the exercise of those rights gives them a lawful excuse. But these are qualified rights, not absolute rights.”

Ms Serres told the court it took three hours for the pair to be removed, with the incident lasting past closing time.

She said: “There were concerns over how much of the glue had seeped into the frame and the painting itself.”

Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh's Peach Trees in Blossom (1889)
Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh's Peach Trees in Blossom (1889). Picture: Alamy

The court heard there were also concerns about a solvent used by police to remove the protestors.

Ms Serries said the frame, which is worth around £20,000, dates back to the 18th century.

She said: “There were large areas of glue left behind and areas of solvent which had seeped into the gilding of the frame.

“Parts of the frame had fallen off.”

Ms Serres said it took six hours for the painting to be taken out from the frame and put back again.

Brocklebank, a student, told the court: “When it comes to protesting, just speaking does not get a platform.

“By gluing, it gives a story which the media chooses to follow.”

She added: “I didn’t think I would cause much damage. Glue comes off.”

Brocklebank said the owner of the painting would have “consented” to the protest.

She said: “Any good human would agree with trying to sustain life on Earth.”

Brocklebank, from Leeds, who appeared in person, and McKechnie, from Dorset, who appeared in custody from HMP Peterborough, deny the charges.

Xavier Gonzales-Trimmer, 21, originally faced the same charges after he was accused of “distracting the guards”, but they were dropped.

However he was fined for failing to appear at the court for a first hearing.

The trial continues.

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