Discover a curated selection of vintage butterfly prints, images and illustrations that are free to download. Perfect for art projects, home décor, and creative crafts.
Butterflies are an insect from the order Lepidoptera. Hence, butterfly collectors are called lepidopterists. Butterflies are found in countries all over the world except for the coldest ones. However, they are more abundant in the tropics and South America.
I think everyone studies butterflies at some stage in their primary education. The four-stage life cycle of the butterfly is a widespread introduction to biology.
I remember the wonder of witnessing a beautiful adult butterfly emerging from its Chrysalis from my childhood. Maria Sibylla Merian illustrates this metamorphosis of butterflies in the most beautiful way.
It’s the beauty of the butterfly that makes it probably the most popular insect. For centuries, butterflies have been used for art and jewellery. They have been decoupaged, framed, or set in resin blocks.
Natural History Butterfly Images
Most of the butterfly illustrations in this post, have been drawn from Victorian butterfly collections.
Butterfly collecting, surprisingly, is still legal (except for certain species). But it is not the popular hobby it once was. I think that is for several reasons. We are a lot more ecologically conscious these days. It’s no longer ethical or environmentally friendly to collect butterflies. Also, there are far fewer butterflies now than in the past.
Did you know that the English prime ministers Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill were once butterfly collectors? At its height of popularity in the early 20th century, there was a whole industry around the pastime of butterfly collecting, from all the specialist journals and books, the equipment, the beautiful mahogany display cabinets, and even butterfly farms.
Now the only butterfly collectors are those field biologists collecting and identifying spices in the name of science. Peter Marren wrote an interesting article about the demise of the hobby of butterfly collecting.
The modern acceptable way to collect butterflies is to photograph them. The Norwegian nature photographer Kjell Sandved devoted much of his career to photographing the patterns and
How To Download The Plates
Here I’ve curated a collection of beautiful
Just click on the highlighted title link to download the vintage butterfly images, and a higher-resolution image will automatically open on a new page in your browser. You can save it to your device or print it if you click on that image.
There is a really cute tutorial on how to use these illustrations to create a unique butterfly Christmas ornament.
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The Vintage Butterfly Illustrations 1-5
This beautiful plate of moth and butterfly images is from the German publication “Abhandlungen der Senckenbergischen Naturforschenden Gesellschaft” 1854. From Harvard University Library.
A lovely collection of 5 butterflies from Charles Waterhouse’s ” Aid To The Identification Of Insects”. This is a beautiful book from the 1880’s full of fabulous insect illustrations from the Smithsonian Libraries.
The butterflies on this plate are beautiful, and there are some lovely lifecycle drawings around the edge. This is from the “Dictionnaire Universel d’Histoire
The second plate of butterfly images from Charles Orbigny’s book. Again with line drawings of each butterflies caterpillar state.
The beautiful blue butterfly on this plate, the Nymphalidae Morpho Adonis, is named after the mythological Adonis, the Greek god of beauty and desire.
Butterfly Plates 6 – 10
I love the painting of the Large Emerald butterfly at the bottom of the plate.
This is a gorgeous collection of vintage butterfly images. I love the impressive Imperial Trojan butterfly in the middle of the plate.
These lovely vintage butterfly images are from The Annals and magazine of natural history; zoology, botany, and geology (1916).
Thirty-two beautiful vintage butterfly images in this first of 2 natural history posters. Adolphe Millot painted them for the “Nouveau Larousse illustré”. I’ve previously shared a collection of Millot’s Sea Life posters.
Thirty beautiful vintage butterfly images in this second of 2 natural history posters. Adolphe Millot painted them for the “Nouveau Larousse illustré”.
Butterfly Prints 11-15
These butterflies are from the vintage nature illustrations of the 18th Century Dutch naturist Jan Brandes.
Dru featured many plates of butterflies in his Exotic Entomology book. The beautiful multi-coloured butterfly in the middle is Two Tailed Pasha.
This print featured in this post on vintage entomology prints.
Another one of Dru Drury’s butterfly paintings.
This and the following vintage butterfly prints are from the “The Entomology of America” by Thomas Say.
Other Natural History Prints
These butterfly illustrations are best printed on watercolour paper before framing them for an authentic antique look.
If you liked these vintage butterfly images you may want to check out some of these other natural history illustrations such as the collection of dragonfly drawings.