Protesters cover John Constable’s The Hay Wain with their own picture ((Kirsty O’Connor/PA)/PA)
wo climate change activists who glued themselves to the frame of John Constable’s masterpiece The Hay Wain have denied criminal damage.
Hannah Hunt, 23, and Eben Lazarus, 22, staged the protest at the National Gallery in central London on July 4, as part of the Just Stop Oil campaign.
The 1821 painting was covered with an image the activists called “an apocalyptic vision of the future”, as Hunt and Lazarus glued their hands to the frame.
The two activists did not attend Westminster magistrates court on Wednesday, claiming they are too poor to travel to London.
In their absence, not guilty pleas were entered by their lawyer and a trial was set for November.
Hunt and Lazarus, both students, are accused of causing damaged valued at £1081.49 to the Hay Wain and its frame.
The court was told glue was applied to the frame during the protest, and double-sided tape was used to stick the activists’ image to the painting itself.
“They accept presence, there are no issues as to ID”, said Deputy Chief Magistrate Tan Ikram.
“The issue is going to be arguments of lawful excuse, necessity, and an honest belief the person they believe to be entitled to consent to the damage would have consented if they had known of the damage and the circumstances.”
Defence lawyer Raj Chada said the defendants argue the National Gallery owners would have consented to the protest “if they had known the full circumstances”.
“It was a symbolic act”, he added.
The protest, at around 2.15pm, happened in front of a class of school children, and forced the evacuation of the gallery room where the famous painting hangs.
Protesters from Just Stop Oil climate protest group covered John Constable’s The Hay Wain with their own picture inside the National Gallery, London (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Psychology student Hunt, from Brighton, and music student Lazarus, from Wiltshire, were wearing t-shirts bearing the Just Stop Oil logo as they stepped over the rope barrier which guards the painting.
Constable’s masterpiece depicts a rural Suffolk scene of a wagon returning to the fields across a shallow ford for another load.
It was covered by the protestors with an image of an old car dumped in front of the Mill and the Hay Wain cart carrying an old washing machine.
After the incident, the National Gallery said “minor damage” had been caused to the frame, as well as “disruption to the surface of the varnish on the painting”.
Judge Ikram banned Hunt and Lazarus from entering art galleries around the country until their trial, as a condition of bail, and also said they must not carry adhesive substances outside their homes.
“There’s a real risk they might use tape again, because they think they have the consent of owners of paintings to do what they accept they did”, he said.
“Double-sided tape on a canvass – who knows? The paint might come off one day and that would be serious damage.”
Hunt and Lazarus were denied permission to join the court hearing via videolink, after they said they “couldn’t afford to come to court”.
“I don’t find it in the interests of justice”, said the judge. “The defendants say they can’t afford to travel to court. That’s an unacceptable reason in relation to the granting of a videolink.
“I’m told they were able to secure a lift previous to come to London – perhaps they could have explored that today.”
Not guilty pleas were entered for Hunt and Lazarus to the charge of criminal damage. A half-day trial was set for November 3.
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