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A Painting of Butterflies

A Painting of Butterflies

Benjamin Wilkes. A Painting of Butterflies. Early to Mid-18th century.

Little is known about the naturalist and collector Benjamin Wilkes, except that he produced two important works about British moths and butterflies.  His 1742 publication, Twelve new designs of English butterflies, contained no text but was simply twelve engraved plates depicting groups of butterflies.  It was published by Wilkes, "against the Horn Tavern in Fleet Street, where any gentleman or lady may see his collection of insects."  He then went on to produce a 1749 series entitled English Moths and Butterflies, representing their change into the caterpillar, chrysalis, and fly states, and the plants, flowers, and fruits whereon they feed.

The painting pictured here may have been a design for one of these publications.  Benjamin Wilkes created illustrations of both scientific and artistic importance by representing the metamorphoses of insects in their natural habitats.  His compositions reflect a casual, naturalistic quality, as he has portrayed the insects in their various stages of development, from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly or moth.  Wilkes's images are very reminiscent of the work of Maria Sybilla Merian.  Like Merian, Wilkes showed the insects with the plants on which they fed.

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