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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]

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iStock
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Art
The Simple Optical Illusion That Makes an Image Look Like It's Drawing Itself
iStock
iStock

Artist James Nolan Gandy invents robot arms that sketch intricate mathematical shapes with pen and paper. When viewed in real time, the effect is impressive. But it becomes even more so when the videos are sped up in a timelapse. If you look closely in the video below, the illustration appears to materialize faster than the robot can put the design to paper. Gizmodo recently explained how the illusion works to make it look like parts of the sketch are forming before the machine has time to draw them.

The optical illusion isn’t an example of tricky image editing: It’s the result of something called the wagon wheel effect. You can observe this in a car wheel accelerating down the highway or in propeller blades lifting up a helicopter. If an object makes enough rotations per second, it can appear to slow down, move backwards, or even stand still.

This is especially apparent on film. Every “moving image” we see on a screen is an illusion caused by the brain filling in the gaps between a sequence of still images. In the case of the timelapse video below, the camera captured the right amount of images, in the right order, to depict the pen as moving more slowly than it did in real life. But unlike the pen, the drawing formed throughout the video isn't subject to the wagon-wheel effect, so it still appears to move at full speed. This difference makes it look like the sketch is drawing itself, no pen required.

Gandy frequently shares behind-the-scenes videos of his mechanical art on his Instagram page. You can check out some of his non-timelapse clips like the one below to better understand how his machines work, then visit his website to browse and purchase the art made by his 'bots.

And if you think his stuff is impressive, make sure to explore some of the incredible art robots have made in the past.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Tessa Angus
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Surprising Sculptures Made From Fallen Feathers
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire is a British sculptor with an unusual medium: feathers. Her surreal, undulating works often take the form of installations—the feathers spilling out of a drain, a stove, a crypt wall—or stand-alone sculptures in which antique bell jars, cabinets, or trunks contain otherworldly shapes.

MccGwire developed her obsession with feathers after moving to a studio barge on the Thames in 2006, as she explains in a video from Crane.tv recently spotlighted by Boing Boing. The barge was near a large shed full of feral pigeons, whose feathers she would spot on her way to work. "I started picking them up and laying them out, collecting them," she remembers. "And after about two weeks I had like 300 feathers." At the time, concerns about bird flu were rife, which made the feathers seem "dangerous as well as beautiful."

When not supplied by her own next-door menagerie, the feathers for her artwork come from a network of racing pigeon societies all over the UK, who send her envelopes full every time the birds molt. Farmers and gamekeepers also send her fallen feathers from birds such as magpies, pheasants, and roosters.

The cultural associations around birds are a big part of what inspires MccGwire. “The dove is the symbol of peace, purity, and fertility," she told ArtNews in 2013, "but it’s exactly the same species as a pigeon—which everyone regards as being dirty, foul, a pest.”

The same duality is present in her own work, which she frequently shares on her Instagram account. “I want to seduce by what I do—but revolt in equal measure. It’s really important to me that you’ve got that rejection of things you think you know for sure.”

You can see some pictures of MccGwire's work, and watch the video from Crane.tv, below.

Kate MccGwire's installation "Evacuate"
Evacuate, 2010
J Wilde

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Convolous"
Convolous, 2015
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's installation "Gyre"
Gyre, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Gag"
Gag, 2009
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Writhe"
Writhe, 2010
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Quell"
Quell, 2011
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Taunt"
Taunt, 2012
Tessa Angus

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