Why I Paint Caterpillars 
Why do I paint caterpillars?
It was May in 1903 when my duties for the federal Tribunal were being drafted that, for the first time, I had the idea of examining a caterpillar with a magnifying glass. I uttered a cry of wonder. The magnification of the glass disclosed unsuspected beauties. I felt compelled to reproduce what I had seen. Thus a new path opened up before me to which I pledged myself not tknowing whither it would lead me. To the first watercolour a second was added, and my appetite was so stimulated by these novel experiments that in the last seventeen years I have arrived at the pleasing total of five hundred plates. At first I painted them clandestinely in order not to disturb those hours devoted to great painting. Besides, my caterpillars were portrayed at the beginning on a completely white background.
That background is quite disagreeable!
Such a simple purpose became disagreeable, as is the habit, far too often observed in our museums, of placing the wonders of creation, like common models, against white backgrounds without life or beauty. But how does one overcome this scruple? Not to enlarge the caterpillar would be to abandon precisely what I wished to prove and to enlarge its surroundings on the same scale would make the plants unrecognizable and would distort them. Eventually I settled upon a compromise that gave me the double benefit of being able to portray the little animal seven or eight times its normal size but not altering its surroundings. This was the solution I arrived at after several fumbling attempts.
I still think the background is a little lackluster. The impressionism is nice but can I make it just a little more realistic?
The caterpillars have made great progress but providing them with a suitable environment has been an enormous task. Did the project really deserve a month of toil? Could I discuss it thus without any distress? Is it lawful for an artist who has arrested on canvas the most perfect visions to humble himself to paint creatures so lowly and so often scorned? Was it not a disgrace and even risking scandal for my fellow creature? A dedicated Christian, an obedient servant of God, could I, in all conscience, devote myself to this agreeable occupation? Would not the precious years of my old age be wasted?
Sometimes checked by these apprehensions, sometimes thrust in the opposite direction, I found myself in total confusion. Often I entreated the Lord to reveal to me His will to give me complete conviction. Eventually the reply arrived and here it is in all its splendour:
- "My child, set your mind at rest! In 1885 I summoned you to depict upon the walls of the museum of Neuchafel the vision I granted you at the advent of Christ. You obeyed me; good. But people no longer believe in His coming and, most unfortunately for them, they do not prepare themselves for it."
You have obeyed me; it is very good.
- "In 1899 I told you to portray on the front of the historical museum of Berne the ages of humanity in the shape of lofty figures projected on to the screen of a clouded sky. History meditates upon them and Poetry praises these great deeds. But beneath them the horizon is encompassed by the glow of the fires that kindle the new generations. You have obeyed me; it is good. But men consult a different justice and demand a peace which give free rein to all their desires."
There! It is a masterpiece!!!
- "In 1906, on my instruction, you described on the walls of the staircase of the federal Tribunal in Lausanne, a huge figure of Justice, arrayed in a toga of shining whiteness, Justice who is inspired only by the divine word and remains their sole sheet anchor. You obeyed me; it is good. But men spat insults at this Cross. These demons inspired them less with disgust and less with dread than did the Crucified. They have become so marvelously clever that they have forgotten the b, a and ba; they have forgotten that the beginning of wisdom is belief in the Eternal."
||Paint them caterpillars!
- "Observing my glory shining so brightly on the verses that they crush with disdain beneath their feet, perhaps they will change their minds and will agree to try to understand and to believe. But if, having eyes, they will not see; if, having ears, they will not hear; if having a heart, they will not open it to him who alone is eternal, then they will not be forgiven, because having seen the perfection of God in his works, they will not honour him!"
It is for this reason that I paint caterpillars with a clear conscience.
— Léo-Paul Robert
- ↑ Extract from an address given by Léo-Paul Robert on January 11th, 1921 in the museum of Fine Arts in Berne to the deputies of the town and the district who were present at the opening of his exhibition of three hundred watercolour paintings of caterpillars.