Skip to main content

Climate activist smears paint over Tom Thomson piece at National Gallery of Canada

A climate protester splashed paint on a Tom Thomson piece hanging in the National Gallery of Canada Tuesday as part of escalating activities demanding a national firefighting service.

A member of the group On2Ottawa, which periodically blocked traffic in Ottawa this month, splashed paint on Thomson's 1914-15 painting "Northern River". A video shared by the group on Instagram shows a member smearing pink paint on the glass that protects the oil on canvas painting and then gluing himself to the floor.


A post shared by On2Ottawa (@on2ottawa)

In a statement, the National Gallery of Canada says the painting was not damaged.

"An individual, who is unknown to the National Gallery of Canada, attempted to deface Tom Thomson’s Northern River, 1915, on view at the Gallery. Fortunately, the artwork was not harmed during the incident. The Gallery immediately implemented security protocols and the Ottawa Police Service arrested the individual. The work was displayed in a protective glazed panel and has been taken out from display for further evaluation. We expect it will be rehung shortly," the statement said. 

The On2Ottawa group is demanding the federal government establish a national firefighting agency of 50,000 members to tackle forest fires in Canada. It comes amid an unprecedented wildfire season, which has seen more than 15 million hectares of land burned this year, numerous evacuations, property damage, and smoke-filled skies across North America.

"What's more important, these pictures of landscapes, these beautiful pictures by a Canadian artist, or the landscape they painted?" said Kaleb Suedfeld, after splashing the pink paint. "How much longer are we going to allow our governments to be beholden to the whims of the fossil fuel industry?"

In a news release sent immediately after the incident, On2Ottawa said the pink paint is washable.

The group identifies itself as a "nonviolent civil disobedience campaign focused on the creation of a National Firefighting Agency" and has promised "further disruption in the capital" for another week and a half. The group has been involved in previous protests, including when a topless woman stormed the stage at the Juno Awards earlier this year. That same protester later splashed paint on the Prime Minister's Office in Ottawa and handcuffed herself to the entrance before being arrested.

To date, 11 members of the group have been arrested and charged with 34 offences in connection with the recent traffic protests in the capital. 

Ottawa police say Suedfeld is facing a mischief charge in connection with the incident at the National Gallery. Other charges could be laid.

The National Gallery of Canada says it is collaborating with police and will not comment further.

Experts have previously called for a national firefighting agency in Canada, which they say could alleviate pressures on provincial firefighting services and reduce the need for foreign aid. Firefighters from other countries have come to Canada this year to aid in battling wildfires and members of the Canadian Armed Forces have also been sent to the hardest hit areas to help.

Climate protesters in other countries have targeted artwork in attempt to draw attention to their cause. Last year, protesters glued themselves to paintings in London, and later threw soup over Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers" in London's National Gallery, Protesters in Oslo tried to glue themselves to Edvard Munch's "The Scream", but were unsuccessful.

Tom Thomson's Northern River, 1914-15, oil on canvas, hangs in the National Gallery of Canada.


A previous version of this article incorrectly said The Scream was on display in Copenhagen. It is on display in Oslo. Top Stories


opinion Don Martin: With Trudeau resignation fever rising, a Conservative nightmare appears

With speculation rising that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will follow his father's footsteps in the snow to a pre-election resignation, political columnist Don Martin focuses on one Liberal cabinet minister who's emerging as leadership material -- and who stands out as a fresh-faced contrast to the often 'angry and abrasive' leader of the Conservatives.

Stay Connected