• Travel, Science & Natural Hist auction at Christies

    Sale 5809

    Travel, Science & Natural History

    15 October 2009, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 265

    Marian Ellis Rowan (1848-1922)

    The Great Atlas moth: A female atlas moth, Attacus (family SATURNIIDAE, upperside and underside)

    Price Realised  


    Marian Ellis Rowan (1848-1922)
    The Great Atlas moth: A female atlas moth, Attacus (family SATURNIIDAE, upperside and underside)
    signed 'Ellis Rowan' on the overlap
    watercolour with bodycolour on green paper
    18 7/8 x 15in. (48 x 38.1cm.)

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    With wing-spans of up to nearly 10 inches, the genus Attacus includes the largest moths of South East Asia, and they are among the largest found in the world (New Guinea has the largest butterfly, the protected Queen Alexandra's Birdwing, Troides (Ornithoptera) alexandrae, but this species, the female of which is comparable in size to an atlas moth, is not found in the Madang area). The very large Attacus caterpillars are spiny, and feed on a variety of trees, including Ailanthus and Berberis.

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    Blanche (Bli) Ryan, the artist's sister, and thence by descent to Merlin Montagu Douglas Scott; Christie's London, 16 May 1995, lot 213.

    Pre-Lot Text



    Rowan set out on her second trip to New Guinea in April 1917. The butterflies and moths of New Guinea (lots 265-270) all originate from this second visit. Although she hunted and collected butterflies and moths in New Guinea, the numbers she painted in New Guinea and their specimen board layout indicate that many would have been painted from Frederick Parkhurst Dodd's famous collection. She returned home to Macedon with her ambition to paint an exhaustive record of New Guinea's birds of paradise almost realised, having completed 300 sheets of watercolours including 45 of the 52 known species of local birds of paradise, as well as her numerous studies of flowers, butterflies, moths and other insects. A letter written shortly after her return home recorded that she had 'just finished 2,175 butterflies and moths of New Guniea, that means work, as they are difficult to paint.'