It took 128 years to notice, but a Kansas City art research team found a dead grasshopper embedded in Vincent van Gogh’s “Olive Trees.”
Under magnification, conservator Mary Schafer of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, found the tiny bug in the lower foreground of the landscape. It can’t normally be seen by visitors using causal observation.
“It is not unusual to find insects or plant material in a painting that was completed outdoors,” Schafer says. “But in this case, we were curious if the grasshopper could be used to identify the particular season in which this work was painted.”
A paleo-entomologist was unable to use the grasshopper to more precisely date the painting. Apparently, it had died before landing on the canvas.
“Van Gogh worked outside in the elements, and we know that he, like other plein air artists, dealt with wind and dust, grass and trees, and flies and grasshoppers,” says Julián Zugazagoitia, director of the Nelson-Atkins.
While the grasshopper becomes an engaging topic for museum visitors, more significant research on “Olive Trees” is underway.
Analysis conducted by the museum confirms that van Gogh used a type of red pigment that gradually faded over time. These findings suggest that areas where van Gogh employed this red, either alone or mixed with other colors, appear slightly different today than when the painting was completed.