Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890), Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, May-June 1889
oil on canvas,
33.5 cm x 24.5 cm
Credits (obliged to state): Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
In May 1889 Vincent wrote to his brother Theo, 'Yesterday I drew a very large, rather rare night moth there which is called the death’s head, its coloration astonishingly distinguished: black, grey, white, shaded, and with glints of carmine or vaguely tending towards olive green; it’s very big. To paint it I would have had to kill it, and that would have been a shame since the animal was so beautiful.'
Later he decided to paint the moth after all, using his drawing as a model. Van Gogh called it a 'death's-head moth' and depicted a kind of skull on the back of its body. It was actually a giant peacock moth, however – a species that has only stripes there.