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Insect aside: For 128 years, bug stuck in Van Gogh painting went unnoticed

November 13, 2017

Countless pairs of eyes have gazed at Vincent van Gogh’s “Olive Trees” and not seen it.

Yet, it’s been right there in the foreground, embedded in the paint, for 128 years.

A grasshopper. Well, part of one. It’s missing its thorax and abdomen, but it’s definitely a real grasshopper.

“Van Gogh worked outside in the elements,” said Julian Zugazagoitia, director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, where “Olive Trees” resides, “and we know that he … dealt with wind and dust, grass and trees, and flies and grasshoppers.”

The troubled artist, who took his own life a year after “Olive Trees” was painted in St.-Remy, France, had groused about it in an 1885 letter to his brother, Theo.

A team of curators, conservators and outside scientists had been doing more research on the 104 French paintings in the Nelson’s collection. Conservator Mary Schafer was looking at the oil painting under magnification when she discovered the grasshopper.

She was curious if the insect could shed light on the season in which the painting was created. It could not.

But paleo-entomologist Michael Engel of the University of Kansas reported there was no sign of movement in the surrounding paint, indicating the grasshopper was dead when it fell onto the canvas. — Kansas City Star