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 Alexandrae

Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing

Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing is the largest butterfly in the world with the females having a wingspan up to 11 1/2 inches or 280mm. It was first collected in 1906. It is named for the wife of the then British King Edward V11. Queen Alexandra was born Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1844. She died 1925.

This butterfly lives in the canopy of the lowland rainforests and of secondary growth areas rich in aristolacia vines. It is found in a few very small areas in southeast Papua New Guinea.

The wings are iridescent blue and green and black and this very beautiful butterfly is highly prized by collectors. The wing shapes are unique and distinctive. The butterflies live for 3 months.

  • The caterpillars grow to 11 x 3 cm.
  • The males have a wingspan of up to 19 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 24 cm.

It is said that the survival of this species is dependant on 9 remaining 10 sq. km areas of habitat.

Ornithoptera alexandrae is classified as endangered in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’.

Ornithoptera alexandrae
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Acrylic on birch ply & maple

h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm