More than a century ago, a grasshopper found its way to art immortality.
The insect was discovered embedded in Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 painting “Olive Trees” by an official at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., the museum announced Monday.
As part of a research project to examine 104 paintings, Mary Schafer, the museum’s paintings conservator, noticed under magnification that there was an insect in the “lower foreground of the landscape” of “Olive Trees” that was not visible to the naked eye.
“It is not unusual to find insects or plant material in a painting that was completed outdoors,” Ms. Schafer said 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.”
The museum reached out to Dr. Michael S. Engel, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas, who determined that the grasshopper was dead before it landed on van Gogh’s canvas because there was no movement in the surrounding paint. Nothing further about the time of year that the painting was worked on could be determined.
Van Gogh died in 1890, the year after he completed “Olive Trees.” In 1885, van Gogh had described his frustration with working with landscapes outside in a letter to his brother, Theo: “But just go and sit outdoors, painting on the spot itself! Then all sorts of things like the following happen — I must…