BIRDWING SERIES

“These paintings evolved when, after a long period of other artistic activities, I found a way of combing my need to get back to painting, with my feelings about the environment.

I feel deep anger at the current appalling wilderness destruction and resulting species lose, which is happening across the planet. I have been witnessing it since a child in England in the 1940s, Malaysia in the 1950s and 70s and British Columbia since I moved here in 1969. Destruction is everywhere.”

Art making is fundamental to my being but the natural world has always held equal or greater importance for me. It therefore felt very good to develop a way of working that combined both these passions. Having worked with, and taught, current art practice for many years, I found it a surprise to be painting leaves and butterflies. It certainly required a degree of courage to continue. However I comfort myself with the thought that progress in art often requires moving outside of the accepted envelope.

Initially I had no intention of exhibiting these images of imagined tropical plants and endangered insects as they were purely personal, though symbolic, renderings of just a few examples of the millions of animals and plants that, I believe, should be valued and protected in the natural world. 

I realize though, that with an issue as critical as this, it is important that I try to get these paintings seen.

I have come to think of this work as analogous to the paintings of our cave- dwelling ancestors. It is thought that they painted the wild horses and other Paleolithic animals as a ritualistic way of possessing those prey animals.

Maybe I am painting these threatened life forms as an intimate way of identifying, understanding, and preserving them, or possibly of making them sacrosanct.

ROTHCHILD’S BIRDWING 2
Ornithoptera Rothschildi

2006
Acrylic on birch ply
h 38.5″  w 61″
98cm x 155cm

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Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild financed many of the late Victorian scientific expeditions to the Australasia region and this butterfly was named by its discoverer, Alfred Stewart Meek, for his benefactor.

Rothschild’s Birdwing has the smallest distribution of any birdwing butterfly and is found in northeastern Iran Jaya in sunny, wind sheltered, ravines above the 2000 meter level.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 13 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 15.5 cm.

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

CHIMAERA BIRDWING 2
Ornithoptera Chimaera

2005
Acrylic on birch ply
h 38.5″ w 61″
98 cm x 155 cm

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This butterfly flies in damp and cool gorges in the highland rainforests of northeastern Papua New Guinea and a few small locations in Irian Jaya.

  • It frequents the rainforest canopy and breeds on the Aristolochia Vine.
  • The male forewings are iridescent gold and green and very beautiful.
  • It was first identified in 1903.

The markings are very similar to the Ornithoptera species Paradisea, Tithonus and to a lesser extent Rothschildi except that the wing shapes in each are very different. Some ornithologists refer to these four species as ‘Schonbergia’ as distinct from Ornithoptera. In ‘The Greek Myths’ Robert Graves describes the Chimaera as “a fire-breathing she-monster with a lion’s head, goat’s body, and serpent’s tail”.

Webster’s also says ‘it pertains to an impossible or foolish fancy’. Possibly this species was seen only fleetingly. There are 2 subspecies.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 16 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 19 cm.

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

D’URVILLE’S BIRDWING 2
Ornithoptera Urvillianus (Priamus Urvillianus)

2005
Acrylic on birch ply
h 38.5″ w 61″
98cm x 155 cm

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These butterflies are found on New Ireland and the Solomon Islands. In the recent past D’urville’s Birdwing, with the dark blue male, was considered a distinct species. However it has now been proved to be a subspecies of Priamus by cross breeding with a second sub species and producing fertile offspring.

Urvillianus was first named by J. Dumont d’Urville who collected a specimen early in the Nineteenth century. It is a large butterfly but is apparently being farmed in the Solomons and is therefore not considered threatened.

The Priamus Caelestis is another priamus subspecies with a colouration toward the blue, although the males are more of a pale turquoise. I suppose the English name of that butterfly would be ‘Heavenly Birdwing’.

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

PRIAMUS BIRDWING
Onithoptera Priamus

2005
Acrylic on Birch ply & chestnut
h 38.5″ w 64″
98 cm x 163 cm

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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’

TITHONUS BIRDWING
Ornithoptera Tithonus

2004
Acrylic on birch ply & maple
h 38.5” w 61”
98 cm x 154 cm

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Little is known of the exact distribution of this butterfly although it is known to inhabit the Onin Peninsular in Irian Jaya and one or two nearby islands where it can be found from sea level to 1200 meters.

The golden/green forewings are suffused with an iridescent coppery-orange which, with the wing shape, distinguishes O. tithonus from the similar chimaera. In the 1911 publication of field notes by C. B. Pratt, he describes finding a flowering tree overhanging a deep chasm, which was attracting large numbers of these butterflies. After trying unsuccessfully for some weeks to capture one, they decided to cut down the tree in the hope it would cause the butterflies to disperse to other flowers. They cut the tree down, but never saw another of these butterflies.

Tithonus was the son of Laomedon, who built the walls of Troy, and brother to Priam the eventual King of troy. He was the lover of Aurora, Goddess of the Dawn. Zeus very kindly granted him immortality but failed to add eternal youth. Consequently he grew older, and older, till he shriveled up and became a cicada. From Tithonus comes the word tithonic which means ‘denoting rays of light which produce chemical effects.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 15 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 18 cm.

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

QUEEN ALEXANDRA’S BIRDWING
Ornithoptera Alexandrae

2004
Acrylic on birch ply
h 38.5” w 66.5”
98cm x 169cm

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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 dependent 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’.

CROESUS’S BIRDWING
Ornithoptera Croesus (Croesus Lydius)

2002
Acrylic on birch ply
h 38.5” w 61”
98cm x 155cm

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The male of this butterfly is unique of the ornithoptera butterflies being mostly brown and a burnt orange, which appears iridescent green from certain views.

Alfred Russell Wallace first observed it in 1859 and it took him three months before he finally collected a specimen. He discovered that they are attracted to the yellow flowering shrub ‘Mussaenda’, so stood guard with his net till a male came along. He named it after the fabulously rich Lydian King Croesus, of the sixth century B.C.

  • There are considered to be 5 subspecies.
  • The males have a wingspan of up to 15 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 22 cm.

These butterflies frequent lowland swamps on various islands in the Moluccas. It is classified as Vulnerable in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’

AESCUS BIRDWING
Ornithoptera Aesacus

2002
Acrylic on birch ply
h 38.5” w 61.5”
98cm x 156cm

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This is one of the least known of the Birdwings. It is found only on Obi Island, in the Indonesian Moluccas. Obi has been closed to outside travel for a great many years and few examples are in collections. Little is known of the numbers of this butterfly but it is assumed that the Aesacus is fairly secure, as no logging has been allowed on the island.

Robert Graves says that Aesacus was a son of Arisbe, the first wife of Priam, King of Troy. When Aesacus great love Asterope, the daughter of a river, died he tried repeatedly to kill himself by jumping into the sea from a high cliff. Finally the Gods took pity on him and turned him into a diving bird “thus allowing him to indulge his passion with greater decency”.

  • The males have a wingspan up to 14 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan up to 19 cm.

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

QUEEN VICTORIA’S BIRDWING
Ornithoptera Victorae

2001
Acrylic on birch ply
h 38.5” w 67”
98 cm x 170 cm

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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’

PARADISE BIRDWING
Ornithoptera Paradisea

2001
Acrylic on birch ply & maple
h 38.5” w 61”
98cm x 154cm

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This butterfly is found on the north west coast of Papua New Guinea and a few isolated areas of Irian Jaya where it flies high in the rainforest canopy. It is named for the exotic shape and colouring, and is similar to such species as O. tithonus and O.chimaera save for the uniquely shaped hindwing. The most similar butterfly is O. meridionalis. The two are separated by a high mountain range.

  • There are considered to be seven subspecies.
  • The males have a wingspan of up to 13 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 17 cm.

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

ALLOTTI BIRDWING
Ornithoptera Alloti

2001
Acrylic on birch ply
disclaimer: colours will be corrected (11/03/03)
h 38.5” w 67”
98 cm x 170 cm

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For nearly a hundred years this was a controversial and enigmatic butterfly. Was it a distinct but very rare species or was it an accidental hybrid? Opinion was divided until 1986 when Ray Strattman put Victorae females with Priamus euptora males. They mated and produced perfect Allotti hybrids.

D’URVILLE’S BIRDWING
Ornithoptera Urvillianus (Priamus Urvillianus)

2001
Acrylic on birch ply & fir
h 38.5” w 61”
98 cm x 154 cm

READ MORE

These butterflies are found on New Ireland and the Solomon Islands. In the recent past D’urville’s Birdwing, with the dark blue male, was considered a distinct species. However it has now been proved to be a subspecies of Priamus by cross breeding with a second sub species and producing fertile offspring.

Urvillianus was first named by J. Dumont d’Urville who collected a specimen early in the Nineteenth century. It is a large butterfly but is apparently being farmed in the Solomons and is therefore not considered threatened.

The Priamus Caelestis is another priamus subspecies with a colouration toward the blue, although the males are more of a pale turquoise. I suppose the English name of that butterfly would be ‘Heavenly Birdwing’.

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

GOLIATH BIRDWING
Ornithoptera Goliath

2001
Acrylic on birch ply
h 38.5” w 67”
98 cm x 170 cm

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This is thought to be the second largest butterfly after the Queen Alexandria’s Birdwing. It is found mostly in Papua New Guinea though some sub species are found in northern Irian Jaya and adjacent Islands. It lives in both primary and secondary forest from the lowlands to the highlands. As with all birdwings it breeds on the aristolachia vine, the poisons of which are passed on to the adults or imagos.

  • It was first described in 1888.
  • There are considered to be 8 subspecies.
  • The males have a wingspan of up to 20 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 22 cm.

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

CHIMAERA BIRDWING
Ornithoptera Chimaera

2001
Acrylic on birch ply
h 38.5” w 67”
98 cm x 170 cm

READ MORE

This butterfly flies in damp and cool gorges in the highland rainforests of northeastern Papua New Guinea and a few small locations in Irian Jaya.

  • It frequents the rainforest canopy and breeds on the Aristolochia Vine.
  • The male forewings are iridescent gold and green and very beautiful.
  • It was first identified in 1903.

The markings are very similar to the Ornithoptera species Paradisea, Tithonus and to a lesser extent Rothschildi except that the wing shapes in each are very different. Some ornithologists refer to these four species as ‘Schonbergia’ as distinct from Ornithoptera. In ‘The Greek Myths’ Robert Graves describes the Chimaera as “a fire-breathing she-monster with a lion’s head, goat’s body, and serpent’s tail”.

Webster’s also says ‘it pertains to an impossible or foolish fancy’. Possibly this species was seen only fleetingly. There are 2 subspecies.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 16 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 19 cm.

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

ROTHSCHILD’S BIRDWING
Ornithoptera Rothschildi

2000
Acrylic on birch ply
h 34” w 60”
86.5cm x 152.5cm

READ MORE

Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild financed many of the late Victorian scientific expeditions to the Australasia region and this butterfly was named by its discoverer, Alfred Stewart Meek, for his benefactor.

Rothschild’s Birdwing has the smallest distribution of any birdwing butterfly and is found in northeastern Iran Jaya in sunny, wind sheltered, ravines above the 2000 meter level.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 13 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 15.5 cm.

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