T. W. Wood

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T. W. Wood
Malay Archipelago Racquet-tailed Kingfisher.jpg
Thomas Wood

Summer 1839
Marylebone, London
Known for zoological illustration
Notable work
Illustrations in The Malay Archipelago , The Descent of Man
Patron(s) Wallace, Darwin, Tegetmeier

T. W. Wood (born Thomas Wood, summer 1839 – c. 1910 [lower-alpha 1] ) was an English zoological illustrator responsible for the accurate drawings in major nineteenth century works of natural history including Darwin's The Descent of Man and Wallace's The Malay Archipelago . He studied the courtship display behaviour of pheasants, observing them closely and publishing the first description of the double-banded argus pheasant. He illustrated many books, often of birds but also of moths and mammals.


Some new illustrations have been introduced, and four of the old drawings have been replaced by better ones, done from life by Mr. T. W. Wood.

Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man [1]

I also obtained one or two specimens of the fine racquet-tailed kingfisher of Amboyna, Tanysiptera nais , one of the most singular and beautiful of that beautiful family... They are confined to a very limited area, comprising the Moluccas, New Guinea and Northern Australia... The Amboynese species, of which a very accurate representation is here given, is one of the largest and handsomest. It is full seventeen inches long to the tips of the tail-feathers; the bill is coral red, the under- surface pure white, the back and wings deep purple, while the shoulders, head and nape, and some spots on the upper part of the back and wings, are pure azure blue; the tail is white, with the feathers narrowly blue-edged, but the narrow part of the long feathers is rich blue. This was an entirely new species, and has been well named after an ocean goddess, by Mr. R. G. Gray.

Alfred Russel Wallace: The Malay Archipelago [2]

Life and work

Wood was born in the London borough of Marylebone in June 1839. [3] He became a zoological illustrator, well known in the nineteenth century for his many engravings for major works of natural history including Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man (1871) and Alfred Russel Wallace's The Malay Archipelago (1869).


It appears that Wallace introduced Wood to Darwin, as in a letter to Darwin of 8 March 1868 Wallace writes:

Would you like to see the specimens of pupæ of butterflies whose colours have changed in accordance with the colour of the surrounding objects? They are very curious, and Mr. T. W. Wood, who bred them, would, I am sure, be delighted to bring them to show you. His address is 89 Stanhope Street, Hampstead Road, [London] N.W.

Wallace [4] [lower-alpha 2]

Wood was interested in insect camouflage, and Wallace again cites him in his 1895 book Natural Selection and Tropical Nature, writing that the orangetip butterfly's underwing pattern "completely assimilates with the flower heads and renders the creature very difficult to be seen". [5]


"Paradisea Papuana" (lesser bird-of-paradise) from The Descent of Man, with plumes incorrectly rising from the back Descent of Man - Burt 1874 - Fig 47.png
"Paradisea Papuana" (lesser bird-of-paradise) from The Descent of Man , with plumes incorrectly rising from the back
T. W. Wood's "TWW" monogram T. W. Wood signature.png
T. W. Wood's "TWW" monogram
Combined monogram and signature TWWood combined monogram signature.png
Combined monogram and signature

Wood was chosen along with other eminent Victorian era illustrators such as Joseph Wolf and Johann Baptist Zwecker for the large task of providing a set of drawings for the parson-naturalist John George Wood's Illustrated Natural History: Birds (1875). [6] J.G. Wood (no relation), being an illustrator himself, had difficulty finding other illustrators whose work he liked; among those working on his Birds, he found Harrison Weir "always picturesque, but never correct", while T. W. Wood was the opposite, though he did like Joseph Wolf's artwork. [7]

The English broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough notes that in Wallace's Malay Archipelago, Wood, like earlier illustrators of the lesser bird-of-paradise, showed the male's posture wrongly, with the plumes appearing to bush out from above the wings. Attenborough observes that "It seems very odd that such an accurate and meticulous observer as Wallace did not correct him." [8]

Many of Wood's drawings are signed with his distinctive "TWW" monogram, which he used both alone and in combination with his surname as a signature.

Gamebird display

Controversial image: Argus pheasant for Descent of Man, drawn from observations in London zoo, that Wood told Darwin did not fit his theory Descent of Man - Burt 1874 - Fig 52.png
Controversial image: Argus pheasant for Descent of Man, drawn from observations in London zoo, that Wood told Darwin did not fit his theory

Wood became fascinated by the display plumage of male birds such as pheasants, and in 1870 he published a description of the "lateral or one-sided" display of the male gold pheasant and the "Japanese pheasant", Phasianus versicolor . [9] Darwin commented in the second edition of his Descent of Man that "Some new illustrations have been introduced, and four of the old drawings [by Brehm] have been replaced by better ones, done from life by Mr. T. W. Wood." [10] [11] Wood took the trouble to ask Darwin for a copy of the book "as I should wish to know what characters were particularly pointed out in the text". [12] One of the new drawings was a "Side view of male Argus pheasant, while displaying before the female"; Wood based the drawing on his own careful observation of the birds in the London zoological gardens, and was praised for it by William Bernhardt Tegetmeier, the editor of The Field magazine, for which Wood often worked, as "the first correct delineation of the display". [12]

Greater prairie chicken, with the inflated vocal sacs that Brehm had omitted and Darwin wanted for 2nd edition Descent of Man - Burt 1874 - Fig 39.png
Greater prairie chicken, with the inflated vocal sacs that Brehm had omitted and Darwin wanted for 2nd edition

One of the drawings that Wood replaced in Descent of Man was Alfred Brehm's " Tetrao cupido: male"; his drawing (for the second edition) shows large expanded vocal sacs behind the eyes, the male posing on a raised hummock with three females watching from below in long grass; Brehm's drawing in the first edition had not shown these important features. Darwin was concerned for accurate drawings, especially of features that related to courtship. [13]

However, Wood developed his own view of the purpose of the male argus pheasant's display, which he believed was to "fascinate his lady love", while display by a male animal "undoubtedly has for its object the winning of [the female animal's] favours." Wood was prepared to disagree with Darwin, too, as he felt that the eyespots in its plumage were perfect and thus signs of special creation: "although I feel convinced of the truth of your theory of the origin of species, [the Argus pheasant's plumage] cannot be explained by it ...[but rather it] seems to point to (& almost to prove) the existence of a great artistic power." [12] However the theory in question was not natural selection as in Darwin's 1859 Origin of Species , but sexual selection. [12]

Wood's engraving and description of the double-banded argus in The Field magazine in 1871 formed the first account of the presumed species, for which he proposed the name Argus bipunctatus, though it is now taken as a synonym of Linnaeus's Argusianus argus, probably representing a mutant form of that species. The 'double-banded' refers to the only known part of the bird, feathers with a doubled pattern found in a milliner's shop as hat decoration. [14]

Works illustrated by Wood

"White-headed Woodpecker", coloured wood-engraving by Benjamin Fawcett, drawing by T.W. Wood White-headed Woodpecker by Benjamin Fawcett after T.W. Wood.jpg
"White-headed Woodpecker", coloured wood-engraving by Benjamin Fawcett, drawing by T.W. Wood
Shooting birds of paradise, from The Malay Archipelago Malay Archipelago Bird of Paradise shooting.jpg
Shooting birds of paradise, from The Malay Archipelago


  1. Three "Thomas W. Wood"s died at roughly the right age in central London between 1910 and 1925: aged 68 (not 71) in what the index names 'DEC' (i.e. the winter quarter) 1910, Holborn; aged 76 (not 79) in SEP 1918, Islington; and aged 86 (not 83) in SEP 1922, Fulham. The DEC 1910, Holborn is the best match; if correct, the last book he illustrated, Talks About Birds, was published some months posthumously, which is very possible.
  2. Wood appears here to have discovered the ability of butterfly pupae to camouflage themselves, at least 20 years before Edward Bagnall Poulton's description of the same thing in his 1890 book The Colours of Animals (p. 111).

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  1. van Wyhe, John (2002). "The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online". Descent: Illustrations. Darwin Online. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  2. Wallace, Alfred Russel (1869). "The Malay Archipelago". Papuaweb. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  3. "Entry Information: Births Jun 1839. District Marylebone I. Page 214". FreeBMD. Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  4. Alfred Russel Wallace (8 March 1868). "Alfred Russel Wallace Letters and Reminiscences By James Marchant". Darwin Online. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  5. Wallace, Alfred Russel (1895). Natural Selection and Tropical Nature. Macmillan. p. 43.
  6. Wood, John George, illustrated by Coleman, W.S., Weir, H., Wood, T.W., Wolf, J, Zwecker, J.B. (1875) The Illustrated Natural History: Birds. George Routledge and Sons.
  7. Lightman, Bernard (2009). Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences. University of Chicago Press. pp. 181–182.
  8. Attenborough, David; Fuller, Errol (2012). Drawn From Paradise: The Discovery, Art and Natural History of the Birds of Paradise. HarperCollins. p. 113. ISBN   9780007487622.
  9. Darwin, Charles (1871). The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Volume II. John Murray. p. 89.
  10. van Wyhe, John (2002). "Overview of illustrations in The Descent of Man". Darwin Online. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  11. Darwin, Charles (1882). The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. John Murray. pp. Preface.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Shteir, Ann B; Lightman, Bernard V (2006). Figuring It Out: Science, Gender, And Visual Culture. UPNE. pp. 102–106. ISBN   9781584656036.
  13. Smith, Jonathan (2006). Charles Darwin And Victorian Visual Culture. Cambridge University Press. pp. 123–126. ISBN   9780521856904.
  14. Davison, G. W. H. (1983). "Notes on the extinct Argusianus bipunctatus (Wood)". British Ornithologists' Club. Retrieved 29 March 2013.