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15 Vintage Butterfly Prints and Illustrations: A Free Treasure Trove for Art Lovers

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. 

They are a major component of Art Nouveau animal designs; you should check out the amazing pochoir antique butterflies of E. A. Seguy.

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 colours in butterfly wings. From these photos, he compiled the Butterfly Alphabet showing the 26 letters in the wing patterns of butterflies.

Butterfly posters

How To Download The Plates

Here I’ve curated a collection of beautiful vintage butterfly illustrations from the 19th century.

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

1. Madagascan Butterflies and Moths including Swallowtail 1854

This beautiful plate of moth and butterfly images is from the German publication “Abhandlungen der Senckenbergischen Naturforschenden Gesellschaft” 1854. From Harvard University Library.

Butterfly illustrations

2. Butterfly Plate from the “Aid To The Identification Of Insects” -1880’s

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.

Butterfly plate

3. Plate 1. of Butterflies from “Dictionnaire Universel d’Histoire naturelle

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 Naturellele” by the French naturalist, Charles Orbigny 1849.

Butterfly plate 1.

4. Plate 2. of Butterflies from “Dictionnaire Universel d’Histoire Naturelle”

The second plate of butterfly images from Charles Orbigny’s book. Again with line drawings of each butterflies caterpillar state.

butterfly plate 2

5. Plate 5 of Butterflies from the “Dictionnaire Universel d’Histoire Naturellele”

The beautiful blue butterfly on this plate, the Nymphalidae Morpho Adonis, is named after the mythological Adonis, the Greek god of beauty and desire.

Adonis butterfly.

Butterfly Plates 6 – 10

6. Plate 18 “Dictionnaire Universel d’Histoire Naturelle”

I love the painting of the Large Emerald butterfly at the bottom of the plate.

Large Emerald butterfly

7. Butterfly Images From the “Edinburgh journal of natural history and of the physical sciences” 1835

This is a gorgeous collection of vintage butterfly images. I love the impressive Imperial Trojan butterfly in the middle of the plate.

Imperial Trojan butterfly 1835

8. Little known butterflies from Africa – 1916

These lovely vintage butterfly images are from The Annals and magazine of natural history; zoology, botany, and geology (1916).

Little known African butterflies

9. Papillons A – Adolphe Millot

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.

vintage butterfly images

10. Papillons B – Adolphe Millot

Thirty beautiful vintage butterfly images in this second of 2 natural history posters. Adolphe Millot painted them for the “Nouveau Larousse illustré”.

Natural History butterfly poster

Butterfly Prints 11-15

11. Javanese Butterflies – Jan Brandes

These butterflies are from the vintage nature illustrations of the 18th Century Dutch naturist Jan Brandes.

Vintage nature illustrations of Javanese Butterflies

Print 12: Dru Drury Butterfly

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.

Dru Drury vintage entomology prints butterflies

Print 13: Clouded Mother of Pearl Butterfly

Another one of Dru Drury’s butterfly paintings.

Dru Drury Clouded Mother of Pearl Butterfly Illustration

Print 14: Medium Sized Butterfly Prints

This and the following vintage butterfly prints are from the “The Entomology of America” by Thomas Say.

Thomas Say American Entomology Medium sized butterfly

Print 15: Swallowtail butterfly Thomas Say

Thomas Say Swallowtail butterfly

Other Natural History Prints

These butterfly illustrations are best printed on watercolour paper before framing them for an authentic antique look.

Butterflies are insects, and more beautiful butterfly paintings are free to download with the antique insect art of Joris Hoefnagel and the pochoir insect prints of E.A. Seguy.

If you are a big fan of butterflies and moths, you might want to check out this fun faux moth taxidermy craft and DIY butterfly wall art.

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.

Natural History Posters of Adolphe Millot

Collection of Toucan Paintings

Vintage Parrot Paintings of Edward Lear


Thursday 18th of May 2023



Saturday 20th of May 2023

Thank you so much.


Monday 7th of November 2022

Thank you very much for finding and sharing these beautiful and educational prints


Tuesday 8th of November 2022

You are welcome; I'm glad you enjoyed them.


Tuesday 9th of August 2022

Thank you! I am starting my freshman year at college at needed something like this to decorate the walls with. :)


Tuesday 9th of August 2022

Thank you, and have fun at college.


Monday 11th of July 2022

Beautiful! #9 & 10 are perfect for what I need on my wall of butterfly images! THANK YOU!


Monday 11th of July 2022

Thank you, that sounds like a lovely wall.

Leo & Linda Estrada

Thursday 30th of September 2021

Thank you so much, for these butterflies and parrots. They are gorgeous. The hard part is, deciding which to use first.


Friday 1st of October 2021

Thank you so much, I'm pleased you like them.