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.

Onithoptera Priamus

Priam’s Birdwing

This is the most widespread of the birdwings having 14 identified subspecies, which range through many different habitats. They are found in New Guinea, the islands East to the Solomons and northeast Queensland. The subspecies tend to be localized and are usually named for the island or area in which they are found. They vary in size but are nearly all green to blue green with a black bar across the forewing. Priamus Celestei is turquoise blue, but the Priamus Urvillianus from New Britain and the Solomon Islands is uniquely dark blue and black.

Priamus was fist described in 1717 although no examples were captured until 1758.

It is named after Priam, King of Troy and father of Hector, Paris and Cassandra.

The subspecies vary considerably in size:

  • The males have wingspans from 8cm up to 17 cm.
  • The females have wingspans from 11 cm up to 20 cm.

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

Ornithoptera Priamus
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Acrylic on birch ply & poplar

h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm