Painting outdoors allowed Vincent Van Gogh a firsthand look at the landscapes that would become the subjects of his masterpieces. But the routine wasn't without, well, pests. As part of a study of 104 paintings from France, conservator Mary Schafer at Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art recently took a microscope to Van Gogh's 1889 masterpiece "Olive Trees" and discovered a tiny secret hidden in the oil paint: a very real, very dead grasshopper, reports the Kansas City Star. Too small to be noticed by the naked eye, it had been overlooked for 128 years, museum rep Kathleen Leighton tells Hyperallergic. Van Gogh himself might even have missed it, though the insect's presence in the painting wouldn't have surprised him.
Van Gogh was a "plein-air" artist known to work outdoors and once complained to his brother about the bugs that would infect his work, reports Artnet News. "I must have picked up a good hundred flies and more off the four canvases that you'll be getting, not to mention dust and sand," the Dutch painter wrote in a letter. Other plein-air artists suffered similarly. As the Toronto Star reported earlier this year, black flies are often found in paintings by early 20th-century Canadian artist Tom Thomson. As Van Gogh's grasshopper was missing its thorax and abdomen and appeared not to have struggled, it was probably dead when it hit the paint, Leighton tells Hyperallergic. The bug will remain in place in the lower foreground of the painting. (His brother is linked to the loss of Van Gogh's ear.)