Courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Conservators Discover Grasshopper Embedded in van Gogh Painting

Courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

When Vincent van Gogh painted outdoor landscapes, he was sometimes plagued by hoards of pesky insects. “I must have picked up a good hundred flies and more off the four canvases that you’ll be getting," the artist wrote in an 1885 letter to his brother, Theo. Occasionally he missed a few, judging from a tiny grasshopper that conservators recently discovered embedded in one of van Gogh’s most famous paintings.

As the Associated Press reports, the grasshopper was identified at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, where art experts were researching the museum’s French painting collection for an online catalogue. Among their artworks is van Gogh’s Olive Trees, which he created in 1889 as part of a larger series.

Conservator Mary Schafer was examining Olive Trees when she noted an insect near the painting’s lower foreground, suspended in thick layers of paint. Since it can’t be seen with the naked eye, the creepy-crawly addition had gone unnoticed for nearly 120 years.


Photomicrograph, Olive Trees, 32-2. This image, taken through a microscope, captures the grasshopper embedded in the paint of Olive Trees.
Courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Schaefer wasn’t necessarily surprised to spot the grasshopper, since experts sometimes find bits of plant or insects in landscape paintings. “But in this case, we were curious if the grasshopper could be used to identify the particular season in which this work was painted,” Schaefer said in a statement.

University of Kansas paleontologist and entomologist Michael Engel studied the grasshopper, and noted that its thorax and abdomen were both missing. He also observed that it hadn’t disturbed the paint, which indicated that it landed lifeless on the canvas instead of dying a slow, sticky death.

Ultimately, the grasshopper didn’t yield enough clues to pinpoint when Olive Trees was created. That said, it's still proof that even the best-studied artworks can occasionally yield surprises.

[h/t Associated Press]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
The Covers of Jack Kerouac's Classic Titles Are Getting a Makeover
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press

Readers have been enjoying classic Jack Kerouac books like The Dharma Bums and On the Road for decades, but starting this August the novels will have a new look. Several abstract covers have been unveiled as part of Penguin’s "Great Kerouac" series, according to design website It’s Nice That.

The vibrant covers, designed by Tom Etherington of Penguin Press, feature the works of abstract expressionist painter Franz Kline. The artwork is intended to capture “the experience of reading Kerouac” rather than illustrating a particular scene or character, Etherington told It’s Nice That. Indeed, abstract styles of artwork seem a fitting match for Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose”—a writing style that was influenced by improvisational jazz music.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of The Dharma Bums, which was published just one year after On the Road. The Great Kerouac series will be available for purchase on August 2.

[h/t It's Nice That]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
John MacDougall, Getty Images
Stolpersteine: One Artist's International Memorial to the Holocaust
John MacDougall, Getty Images
John MacDougall, Getty Images

The most startling memorial to victims of the Holocaust may also be the easiest to miss. Embedded in the sidewalks of more than 20 countries, more than 60,000 Stolpersteine—German for “stumbling stones”—mark the spots where victims last resided before they were forced to leave their homes. The modest, nearly 4-by-4-inch brass blocks, each the size of a single cobblestone, are planted outside the doorways of row houses, bakeries, and coffee houses. Each tells a simple yet chilling story: A person lived here. This is what happened to them.

Here lived Hugo Lippers
Born 1878
Arrested 11/9/1938 — Altstrelitzer prison
Deported 1942 Auschwitz
Murdered

The project is the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig, who first had the idea in the early 1990s as he studied the Nazis' deportation of Sinti and Roma people. His first installations were guerrilla artwork: According to Reuters, Demnig laid his first 41 blocks in Berlin without official approval. The city, however, soon endorsed the idea and granted him permission to install more. Today, Berlin has more than 5000.

Demnig lays a Stolpersteine.
Artist Gunter Demnig lays a Stolpersteine outside a residence in Hamburg, Germany in 2012.
Patrick Lux, Getty Images

The Stolpersteine are unique in their individuality. Too often, the millions of Holocaust victims are spoken of as a nameless mass. And while the powerful memorials and museums in places such as Berlin and Washington, D.C. are an antidote to that, the Stolpersteine are special—they are decentralized, integrated into everyday life. You can walk down a sidewalk, look down, and suddenly find yourself standing where a person's life changed. History becomes unavoidably present.

That's because, unlike gravestones, the stumbling stones mark an important date between a person’s birth and death: the day that person was forced to abandon his or her home. As a result, not every stumbling stone is dedicated to a person who was murdered. Some plaques commemorate people who fled Europe and survived. Others honor people who were deported but managed to escape. The plaques aim to memorialize the moment a person’s life was irrevocably changed—no matter how it ended.

The ordinariness of the surrounding landscape—a buzzing cafe, a quaint bookstore, a tree-lined street—only heightens that effect. As David Crew writes for Not Even Past, “[Demnig] thought the stones would encourage ordinary citizens to realize that Nazi persecution and terror had begun on their very doorsteps."

A man in a shop holding a hammer making a Stolpersteine.
Artisan Michael Friedrichs-Friedlaender hammers inscriptions into the brass plaques at the Stolpersteine manufacturing studio in Berlin.
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

While Demnig installs every single Stolpersteine himself, he does not work alone. His project, which stretches from Germany to Brazil, relies on the research of hundreds of outside volunteers. Their efforts have not only helped Demnig create a striking memorial, but have also helped historians better document the lives of individuals who will never be forgotten.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER