Insect-inside: Van Gogh painting's buggy secret revealed

Olive Trees
Somewhere in here there is an actual grasshopper. Photo credit: Vincent van Gogh/Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Missouri

More than a century after it was painted, art lovers are still finding new things to marvel at in paintings by Vincent van Gogh.

The latest find? A grasshopper. Not a painted bug either - an actual grasshopper.

The remains of a 128-year-old grasshopper inside Vincent van Gogh's 'Olive Trees'.
The remains of a 128-year-old grasshopper inside Vincent van Gogh's 'Olive Trees'. Photo credit: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Missouri

'Olive Trees' was painted by the post-impressionist master in 1889. Van Gogh liked to paint outdoors, as he once explained in a letter to his brother Theo, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Missouri said in a statement.

"I must have picked up a good hundred flies and more off the 4 canvases that you'll be getting, not to mention dust and sand," van Gogh wrote in 1885. "When one carries them across the heath and through hedgerows for a few hours, the odd branch or two scrapes across them."

The tiny grasshopper in 'Olive Trees' was found by Mary Schafer, a paintings conservator at the museum, using a surgical microscope.

"I came across what I first thought was the impression of a tiny leaf," she told website Live Science. "But then, I discovered it was in fact a tiny insect."

Not all of one, however. The thorax and abdomen from the remains, about 6mm long and 1mm across, are missing. Ms Schafer says it was probably already dead and stuck to van Gogh's brush when it became a part of art history.

While the find is hardly a secret code worthy of featuring in a Dan Brown novel, Ms Schafer says she's glad the grasshopper's sparked interest in van Gogh's work.

Van Gogh himself never saw the fruits of his genius - he died aged 37 after suffering years of illness and poverty. His widow, Jo van Gogh-Bonger, was instrumental in shining a light on his genius in the following years.