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Real grasshopper found immortalized in van Gogh painting

Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh worked more than pigments and paints into his "Olive Trees" masterpiece. There's also an insect.


Vincent van Gogh's "Olive Trees" contains a hidden insect.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Swirling grass. Windswept trees. Vibrant flowers. And a deceased grasshopper.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, announced this week that it discovered a grasshopper embedded in the thick paint of Vincent van Gogh's masterpiece "Olive Trees." This revelation came about during a scientific study of the artwork, which is housed at the museum.

"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," says museum director Julián Zugazagoitia.

A closer look at the grasshopper in Vincent van Gogh's "Olive Trees."

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Locating the grasshopper's remains required magnification and a sharp eye. The museum released a photo of the bug taken through a microscope. 

Paleo-entomologist Michael Engel with the University of Kansas determined that parts of the grasshopper were missing and it was dead before melding into the paint. 

The grasshopper discovery is just one piece of a larger study of "Olive Trees." Researchers found a red pigment in the painting that would have faded over time, meaning it would have looked different when it was created in 1889 than it looks now. 

The museum hopes the ongoing research on "Olive Trees" will reveal more about its original appearance and how it fits into van Gogh's larger body of work.