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Real grasshopper found embedded in Van Gogh painting

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, November 9, 2017, 6:40 PM - A small grasshopper has been found embedded in a Vincent Van Gogh painting -- and researchers hope it will provide insight into the weather conditions he worked in.

The insect, which was stuck to thick paint in Van Gogh's Olive Tree painting, was discovered during a large-scale study to better understand the process behind Olive Tree, along with 103 other French paintings.

“Olive Trees is a beloved painting at the Nelson-Atkins [museum], and this scientific study only adds to our understanding of its richness,” the museum said in a press release.

“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.”

The grasshopper is only visible through magnification, and would be virtually invisible to the casual observer.

“It is not unusual to find insects or plant material in a painting that was completed outdoors,” said paintings conservator Mary Schafer 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.”

Van Gogh was no stranger to the hurdles of painting outdoors. In an 1885 letter to his brother Theo, he wrote that "all sorts of things ... happen" when painting outdoors.

"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," he added.

Paleo-entomologist Dr. Michael S. Engel of the University of Kansas has been brought in to further the study. He determined the grasshopper's thorax and abdomen were missing and there was no sign of movement in the surrounding paint, suggesting it had died prior to landing on the canvas.

These findings, along with hundreds of others, will be published in installments in an online catalogue starting in 2019.

Source: Nelson-Atkins

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