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Dead grasshopper found in Vincent Van Gogh painting

09 November 2017

The remains of a grasshopper was discovered on the canvas "Olive trees", which van Gogh painted in 1889. It was Mary Schafer, the painting conservator who first spotted the grasshopper remnants.

According to Schafer, it is not unusual to find this kind of material in paintings but the grasshopper discovery is crucial as it connects viewers with the painting style of Van Gogh and the season in which he drew the painting.

She added: "I was mainly trying to understand the different layers of the painting and how it was constructed, and that's how I came upon part of the body of this little grasshopper".

Olive Trees is part of a series of 18 paintings Van Gogh completed on the subject in 1889 in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France, where he had checked himself into an asylum. That is largely due to the fact that the grasshopper died before it became immortalized in van Gogh's work, which makes its appearance even more mysterious.

Analysis of the painting also confirmed that Van Gogh used a type of red pigment that gradually faded over time. The Museum staff was able to detect the insect during the study of paintings for the catalogue of French painting.

That did not work in this case, though, as an examination by paleoentomologist Michael S. Engel, of the University of Kansas and the American Museum of Natural History in NY, suggested that the insect, which is missing its thorax and abdomen, was already dead before it landed on the canvas, so it could have ended up there at any time of year.

"But just go and sit outdoors, painting on the spot itself!", he wrote to his brother Theo in a letter dating from 1885, as the museum points out. "Then all sorts of things like the following happen - I must have picked up a good hundred flies and more off the four canvases that you will be getting, not to mention dust and sand".

Dead grasshopper found in Vincent Van Gogh painting