Vincent Van Gogh is famous for his beautiful depictions of outdoor landscapes, which he often painted while outdoors himself. While painting outside sounds lovely, one of the hazards appears to have been interference from insects.
“I must have picked up a good hundred flies and more off the four canvases that you’ll be getting,” Van Gogh wrote in an 1885 letter to his brother, Theo.
Now, it seems that one of those pesky bugs had actually found its way into one of Van Gogh’s paintings. In a news release, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City said that a grasshopper was found embedded in the paint of the artist’s piece entitled “Olive Trees.”
The tiny insect isn’t visible to the naked eye, but was discovered when conservator Mary Schafer was closely examining the painting under magnification. Schafer was studying the painting as part of a larger project of the museum to create an online catalogue of their 104 French paintings and pastels. Because it was so difficult to spot, the grasshopper managed to escape anyone’s notice for the past 120 years since Van Gogh created the painting.
This isn’t the first time experts have found foreign objects, such as parts of plants or insects, embedded in paintings.
“It is not unusual to find insects or plant material in a painting that was completed outdoors,” Schafer said in a statement. “But in this case, we were curious if the grasshopper could be used to identify the particular season in which this work was painted.”
Nelson-Atkins Paintings Conservator finds grasshopper embedded in van Gogh's "Olive Trees" https://t.co/6y5jGP4btY #vangogh #arthistory pic.twitter.com/nT4vMgoc8I
— Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (@nelson_atkins) November 6, 2017
The museum’s team called in paleo-entomologist Michael S. Engel, a curator and professor at the University of Kansas and associate at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, for further analysis. By noting that the grasshopper was missing its thorax and abdomen and that there was no sign of movement by the insect, he was able to conclude that it was dead before getting trapped in the canvas. Unfortunately, Engel was not able to pinpoint a more precise time in which the painting was created.
What an interesting discovery! It kind of makes you wonder what other mysteries may be hiding in great works of art.