Look Closely – There Was a 127-Year-Old Grasshopper Discovered in This Van Gogh Painting
Have you ever noticed a mistake while painting your walls or nails? Like accidentally trapping a piece of lint or something under the enamel? We’re not sure how it happened, but a dead grasshopper was recently discovered in a famous artist’s painting.
Whose? Vincent van Gogh! Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s research project into French artists yielded the find while examining van Gogh’s Olive Trees. A team of experts studied the work at the Kansas City, Missouri museum, along with over 100 paintings by other artists.
Scientists and art curators learned the small insect was plastered under a thick coating of paint. It’s located in the foreground of the painting but is not visible to the casual observer. According to the museum’s website, one of their conservators, Mary Schafer, spotted it while using high magnification.
Van Gogh was known to paint outdoors, which sometimes exposed his work to elements of nature— including bugs. Both the museum and the New York Times highlighted this excerpt from an 1885 letter van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo:
“But just go and sit outdoors, painting on the spot itself! Then all sorts of things like the following happen – I must have picked up a good hundred flies and more off the 4 canvases that you’ll be getting, not to mention dust and sand…when one carries them across the heath and through hedgerows for a few hours, the odd branch or two scrapes across them…”
Olive Trees was completed in 1889 and features an array of colors and textures. What’s interesting is that van Gogh worked on a series of olive tree scenes – including this one – during his stay at a French asylum. It’s thought that because the paint was so thick, the artist didn’t notice the tiny bug.
For Ms. Schafer, the grasshopper provided hope of pinning down a narrower window of time for when this oil painting was done. So, an entomologist that specializes in paleontology was contacted to give insight into what season van Gogh spent creating Olive Trees.
Since there was no indication of movement in the actual paint, the entomologist could only determine that the grasshopper was dead when it hit the canvas, and that its thorax was missing. Click on the video to see exactly where it’s located!
To many in on the discovery, it was still exciting because it offered a glimpse into history. What was going on in the environment at the time? How many other bugs did van Gogh have to pluck from this painting and others like it? Are there more bugs in his other famous works?
Over 100 years have passed since Olive Trees was given its final touches, yet no one saw this until now. It makes you wonder if there are other famous works of art in the world with a unusual touch like this. For now, we’ll have to wait for other studies like this to tell us.
What do you think of this interesting story? Are you a fan of van Gogh’s work? If you’re an artist, can you relate to his dilemma?