Nov 13, 2017

Sometime in 1889, Vincent van Gogh was working on a landscape painting known as Olive Trees outside his house. He didn’t probably notice it, but a wild grasshopper got stuck deep in the oil paint on his canvas.

The small insect remained unfound for 128 years, until a painting conservator at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri recently discovered it. Mary Schafer was examining and cataloging the artwork under a microscope when she spotted it.

“She initially thought it was just leaf matter,” the museum’s senior curator Aimee Marcereau DeGalan told the National Public Radio’s website. Van Gogh was known to paint en plein air or outdoors anyway like most Impressionists, so this occurrence is fairly common. Van Gogh even wrote in a letter in 1855, “I must have picked up a good hundred flies and more off the four canvases that you’ll be getting, not to mention dust and sand…”

nolisoli be arts van gogh grasshopper
The grasshopper is missing its chest and abdomen part. The image is taken through a microscope.

No one knows how the grasshopper wound up there, but experts saw no signs of movement in the paint. This means that the critter was dead before it got stuck in the thick paint. It was also missing its abdomen and thorax or chest part.

Although the uncovering isn’t vital in a scholarly sense, it presents a different window for the observers. “The grasshopper’s discovery connects viewers with van Gogh’s painting style and the moment in which he made the work,” Schafer said to Architectural Digest. Experts from the museum also said, “A discovery such as this provides an intimate window into the working conditions experienced by the Impressionists.”

So bring the wind, dusts, and insects on.


Photos courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

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