Arts Everyday Living: Fascinating Insects–From Van Gogh’s Cicadas to Gainsborough’s Butterfly

Vincent van Gogh, Cicadas, 1889, ink on paper, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands


Right now where I live in the Washington, D.C. area, the cicadas have come to visit us, waiting 17 years to make their appearance. For more than a week, whether I am inside our outside, I haven’t been able to escape their unrelenting sound. Vincent van Gogh wrote of his own audial experience of the cicadas, when he was staying at the mental asylum of Saint Remy de Provence.

Outside the cicadas are singing fit to burst, a strident cry ten times louder than those of the crickets.

Letter to Theo and Jo Van Gogh, July 6, 1889


Michaelina Woutiers, Flower Garland with Dragonfly, 1652, oil on canvas, Private Collection


Dragonflies are exotic and striking creatures, often found, darting swiftly back and forth, near bodies of water. Michaelina Woutiers (604-1689) showcases the graceful dragonfly, often symbolizing transformation, with the elegance of flowers in the painting above.  Born in Belgium, her works have been recently rediscovered after years of obscurity.


Thomas Gainsborough, The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly, c. 1756, oil, The National Gallery, London, UK

British master Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) often painted his daughters Margaret (on our left) and Mary (on our right), from childhood into their adult years. In this portrait, the two are pursuing possibly the most beautiful of insects, the butterfly. Will they succeed?

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