Researchers Discover 128-Year-Old Grasshopper Hidden In Van Gogh’s ‘Olive Trees’ Painting

Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings have held many secrets over the years, and his 1889 painting Olive Trees is no exception as researchers have recently found a 128-year-old grasshopper carefully hidden inside the painting. The discovery of the mystery grasshopper was the perfect excuse for researchers to try to examine this painting even more closely to see if the insect inside it would help reveal more than had previously been known about this masterpiece.

It was Mary Schafer from Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art who first made the discovery of this surprise grasshopper in Van Gogh’s Olive Trees painting, and it was so tiny that it was only seen when intensely magnified, which is the main reason why it was never spotted before now.

How did the 128-year-old grasshopper manage to slip inside the painting in the first place? It’s a well-known fact that Vincent Van Gogh was always rather fond of painting in the open air outdoors as he personally attested to in long letters he used to write to his brother Theo. In one of these letters, composed in 1882, he even discussed new equipment he was seeking out that would allow him to better move his art from place to place when painting outside.

As much as Vincent Van Gogh may have loved painting outdoors, he also freely admitted in an 1885 letter to the many difficulties he faced when “painting on the spot itself,” according to ScienceAlert.

“Then all sorts of things like the following happen. I must have picked a good hundred flies and more off the four canvases that you’ll be getting, not to mention dust and sand. Not to mention that, when one carries them across the heath and through hedgerows for a few hours, the odd branch or two scrapes across them.”

Of course, one of the obvious things that will happen when painting outside and exposed to the elements is that you may get a bug or two stuck in your painting, as the grasshopper hidden in his Olive Trees painting aptly showed and which Mary Schafer explained.

“It is not unusual to find insects or plant material in a painting that was completed outdoors.”

Van Gogh loved painting outdoors, so the 128-year-old grasshopper hidden in his 'Olive Trees' painting should come as no surprise.
Van Gogh loved painting outdoors, so the 128-year-old grasshopper hidden in his 'Olive Trees' painting should come as no surprise. [Image by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images]

But could the presence of this grasshopper help explain things like the season in which Van Gogh may have been painting in when he created Olive Trees? Researchers are already aware of the environment the artist would have used for this particular painting as he had checked himself into the Saint-Paul Asylum in Provence, France when this painting was made. This alone dates it to between the years 1889 to 1890.

The Museum of Natural History was employed to aid in the investigation of this particular painting, but when Michael S. Engel attempted to examine Olive Trees and see if the grasshopper could help to explain exactly what season the painting was set in was found to be an impossibility.

Upon further inspection, it was found that both the thorax and the head of the grasshopper had vanished, yet the paint around where it would have hit was still very much intact. From this, Engel deduced that the grasshopper was no longer alive when it entered Van Gogh’s canvas.

Even though the grasshopper yielded no special clues as to the season in which Van Gogh created his painting, Mary Schafer believes that this new discovery encourages a more lively discussion about Van Gogh’s art and his particular style.

“We’re able to talk about the grasshopper with our visitors in a fun way, learn about Van Gogh’s process and how he painted. The grasshopper’s discovery connects viewers with Van Gogh’s painting style, and the moment in which he made the work.”

Knowing of Van Gogh’s penchant for painting outdoors, there might be many more discoveries in the future to come like the 128-year-old grasshopper hiding in his Olive Trees painting.

[Featured Image by Palani Mohan/Getty Images]