Like a Moth to a Flame

Acclaimed bird and wildlife artist, John Gale has always had a long interest in butterflies and moths.

My mother used to rear tropical moths when I was a child as a hobby and the sitting room curtains often had large Atlas moths and Moon moths resting on them during the day. Having always focused on bird illustration and art, I felt at sometime I must illustrate some moths.

Fortunately, that time has come and we are pleased to exhibit John Gale’s latest collection of work, The Moth Series, here in the gallery.  Including the Merveille du jour, Dichonia aprilina and the Oleander Hawkmoth, Daphnis nerii, the collection comprises five beautifully detailed moth illustrations.

I wanted the illustrations to provide as much information about the moth as possible, showing the insect viewed from different angles, variation, larval food plants as well as how they rest during the day and, of course, the amazing camouflage these insects show in relation to their environment.

We asked John how we went about catching the moths, and why he had chosen to focus on the species illustrated in the collection;

My two sons, Tom and James, and I run moth trap in the garden on a regular basis, recording a fantastic variety of moths.  All are safely released the next morning. This gives me a wonderful opportunity to study many species.

 The Merveille du jour, Dichonia aprilina, was presented to me while I was having a Sunday morning ‘lie in’ by Tom, ‘look what we’ve caught, a Merveille du Jour’. This was simply such a beautiful fresh individual I just had to paint it. I was very pleased with the resulting illustration, possibly reflecting a new approach to moth illustration and consequently focused on a few more studies of the more popular species. We see two or three Peach Blossom, Thyatira basis, most years and always a delight.  The caterpillars feed on brambles and while looking for bramble leaves to paint the moth on, I realised that the circular markings on the moths forewings are very similar to patterns on the older decaying bramble leaves if you place the moth on the bramble leaf  – and there you have it!  The amazing cryptic pattern of the moth reveals itself.

Burnished Brass, Diachrysia chrysalis, is of the Plusiinae group which has to be my favourite group of moths in the UK and I want to paint them all! The main food plant is common nettle and again the pattern of decay in the older leaves is reflected in the moths forewing. I love the raised frontal shield and cones on the thorax and backs of these moths; great to show structure in the illustrations as well as beautiful patterns.

Oleander Hawkmoth, Daphnis nerii, is only very rarely encounter in the UK as a rare migrant from Europe. On a couple of occasions I have reared this beautiful insect from eggs, watching the caterpillar feed voraciously on common periwinkle and then turn into simply stunning moths.


Spanish Moon Moth, Graellsia isabellae, is only found on the Iberian Peninsular and the Alps, it is rare and very difficult to see in the wild. One evening during a holiday to Torla in the Spanish Pyrenees in late May, we found three of these mythical insects flying around street lights.  James had gone to bed at the time as it was very late at night, but was soon up and running down the road in his pyjamas to see this ‘holy grail’ of the insect world!All pieces are available now in the gallery as either mounted (£65.00) or framed prints (£110.00).