THE HAGUE: Climate activists glued themselves to Johannes Vermeer's 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' at a Dutch museum on Thursday in the latest stunt targeting famous artworks, but the painting was undamaged.

Three men were arrested after the attack at The Hague's Mauritshuis museum on the 1665 masterpiece which has inspired a bestselling novel and a Hollywood film.

The trio were Belgian, one 42-year-old and two 45-year-olds. "They remain in custody and are being questioned," The Hague police said.

Social media images showed a man wearing a 'Just Stop Oil' T-shirt gluing his head to the painting, while another glued his hand to the wall and a third emptied out a tin of what appeared to be tomato soup.

The stunt comes after activists threw soup at Vincent van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' at the National Gallery in London on October 14 and smeared mashed potato over a Claude Monet painting in Germany.

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"Art is defenceless and we strongly condemn trying to damage it for whichever cause," the Mauritshuis said in a statement to AFP.

'Not damaged'

The museum said the stunt took place at around 2 pm (1400 GMT) and that police were called.

"One person glued his head to the painting, which was behind glass, and the other person glued his hand to the green wall next to the painting. A third person threw an unknown substance at the painting," it said.

The Mauritshuis added: "We have immediately inspected the painting, which was done by our restorers. Fortunately the painting... was not damaged."

It will be back on public display "as soon as possible".

Dutch museums had stepped up security after the 'Sunflowers' stunt and the potato attack on Monet's $111-million 'Les Meules' (Haystacks) at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam on Sunday.

Dozens of people were gathered inside the Mauritshuis waiting for news after Thursday's incident, while security guards told them not to get too close to the other paintings, an AFP reporter said.

The entrance to the room where the 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' normally hangs was blocked off by a large reproduction oil painting and a guard said it would likely be closed for the rest of the day.

Two police vans were parked outside the museum.

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'Beautiful and priceless'

A video on Twitter showed a shaven-headed activist sticking his head to the 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'.

Another poured a red substance from a tin over the head of the first activist.

A third man in a white 'Just Stop Oil' T-shirt shouted as he glued his hand to the wall.

"How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless being apparently destroyed before your eyes," he said. "This painting is protected by glass but the future of our children is not protected."

Museum visitors shouted "shame", "obscene" and "you're stupid".

"Even though I might be in favour of what they want to achieve, this is not the way to do it and I don't think they will get much support from the public," museum visitor Frans Smit, 59, said.

Fellow visitor Jaap de Carpentier Wolf, 56, was more sympathetic.

"I think it's good to draw attention to the climate," he said. "It's changing, it's very hot in The Hague today, so we have to do something".

Art lovers have long been fascinated by Dutch master Vermeer's painting of the young woman with an enigmatic look, wearing a blue and yellow turban, a pearl hanging from her ear.

It also provided inspiration for Tracy Chevalier's 1999 novel 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' which gave rise to an Oscar-nominated film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth.


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