The Art Gallery of Western Australia’s most significant and internationally renowned painting, Frederick McCubbin’s Down on his luck, has been defaced with a Woodside logo.
The masterpiece, which has been part of the gallery’s collection since 1896 and was valued at $3m a decade ago, was spraypainted with the oil and gas giant’s logo in yellow on Thursday morning.
The filmed incident then showed the two protesters unfurl an Aboriginal flag on the floor of the gallery and make an acknowledgement of Country, before one of the protesters glued her hand to the gallery wall.
It was believed the work was not seriously damaged in the protest, with the painting sitting behind a sheet of clear perspex.
Two artists were involved in the action, the latest in a series of acts of art vandalism in Australia and abroad to draw public attention to the climate crisis.
The Perth ceramic artist and illustrator Joana Partyka and Ballardong Noongar man Desmond Blurton said in a statement they had defaced the painting to draw attention to Woodside’s “ongoing desecration of sacred Murujuga rock art” at the Burrup peninsula, more than 1,200km north of Perth in the Pilbara.
“This painting is barely 100 years old,” Blurton said in the statement.
“Woodside is destroying 50,000 years of our culture.”
The statement demanded the company cease its operations on the Burrup, as part of a new direct action campaign by a WA-based group called Disrupt Burrup Hub, which is targeting Woodside.
“Toxic emissions from Woodside’s Burrup Hub are destroying the oldest, largest rock art gallery in the world,” said Partyka in the statement.
“Incredible artists from this region are displayed in this gallery. Their home, the country they paint, is currently underwater [from recent flooding]. Woodside like to slap their logo on everything while they spray their toxic emissions all over sacred rock art. We must stop any more industry on the Burrup, or soon there will be no art left.”
Last year the WA Environment Protection Authority (EPA) advised the state government it should extend Woodside’s North West Shelf gas development in the Pilbara – reportedly Australia’s biggest polluting fossil fuel development – for a further 50 years until 2070.
Climate campaigners have warned it could add more than 4bn tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
A statement sent to the Guardian from Woodside said the company respected people’s rights to protest peacefully and lawfully.
“Woodside has a proven, more than 35-year track record of safe, reliable and sustainable operations on Murujuga, delivering natural gas to customers in Western Australia and around the world,” the statement said.
“Our environmental approach complies with all applicable environmental laws and regulations and is underpinned by robust science-based decisions.”
The statement said peer-reviewed research “had not identified any impacts” on Murujuga rock art from industrial emissions associated with liquefied natural gas production.
WA police and the Art Gallery of WA have been contacted for comment.