Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, May 1889 Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890)
chalk, pen and brush and ink, on paper,
16.3 cm x 24.2 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Vincent van Gogh found this large emperor moth in the garden of the clinic at Saint-Rémy. He believed it to be a death’s head moth, ‘its coloration astonishingly distinguished: black, grey, white, shaded, and with glints of carmine or vaguely tending towards olive green; it’s very big’.
He drew the moth with black chalk, paying considerable attention to the details. He applied the tone of the wings by carefully rubbing the chalk away. Van Gogh used a fine pen and brown ink to fill in the legs and antennae, added a few little lines to the wings and drew an extra outline around them. He accentuated the dark parts of the moth by thickly applying brown ink. He used the same ink with a pen and brush to draw a frame around the image.
There was a particular reason Van Gogh drew the emperor moth rather than painting it, as he wrote to Theo: ‘To paint it I would have had to kill it, and that would have been a shame since the animal was so beautiful’. He did, however, paint another version later, basing himself on this drawing, which is how the splashes of oil paint got onto the paper.