Ornithoptera Series


More about the Paintings

Superficially the paintings describe the rare Birdwing, or Ornithoptera, butterflies of tropical New Guinea. but, as most of them fly above the treetops, I am really concerned to paint the canopy of the forest on which they depend. For me the leaf structures, patterning, colour and surface quality are of the greatest importance.

For the past thirty years I have been interested in plant structures and growth patterns and recently spent a fair bit of time studying and photographing tropical plants and leaves in Borneo and Malaysia. I have occasionally painted from photographs but I prefer to design imagined leaf structures knowing that somewhere in the jungle canopy there is probably a tree that looks like my invention. I have only once tried to paint the Aristolocia vines on which the ornithoptera caterpillars feed.

I paint with acrylic on 1/8 inch birch ply. With some works I include pieces of local wood, with others pieces of recycled tropical hardwoods. My intention is to ask,“ When, under what circumstances, and for what purposes should tropical and temperate woods be used?”

At present I am completing 4 different series each depicting the 11 recognized species, and some subspecies, of Ornithoptera Butterflies.

Ornithoptera Victorae

Queen Victoria’s Birdwing

These butterflies are restricted to the Solomon Islands where there are seven subspecies most of which are named after the specific island on which they are found. The males have oval shaped wings with the rear wings being very elongated and wrinkled. The most similar species is the Queen Alexandria’s Birdwing.

They fly high in the canopy, and in 1885 when a naturalist with a Royal Navy expedition was keen to capture one, a Royal Marine shot one down with a shotgun. That very butterfly is still part of the collection in the Natural History Museum, London.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 16 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 20 cm.

It is classified as indeterminate in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’

Ornithoptera victoriae regina
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Acrylic on birch ply & cherry

h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm