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T. W. Wood

T. W. Wood

Natural history illustrator (1839-1910)
T. W. Wood
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Natural history illustrator (1839-1910)
Was Painter
From England
Type Arts
Gender male
Birth 1839, London, UK
Death 1910, London, UK (aged 71 years)
Peoplepill ID t-w-wood
The details (from wikipedia)


Not to be confused with the American painter Thomas Waterman Wood

T. W. Wood (born Thomas Wood, summer 1839 – c. 1910) 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Some new illustrations have been introduced, and four of the old drawings have been replaced by better ones, done from life by Mr.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

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

Life and work

Wood was born in the London borough of Marylebone in June 1839. 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

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".


T. W. Wood's "TWW" monogram
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). 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.

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."

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

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. 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." 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". 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".

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.

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." However the theory in question was not natural selection as in Darwin's 1859 Origin of Species, but sexual selection.

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.

Works illustrated by Wood

"White-headed Woodpecker", coloured wood-engraving by Benjamin Fawcett, drawing by T.W. Wood
  • Wood, John George, illustrated by Coleman W. S., Smith, E., Wood, T. W. (1864) Our Garden Friends and Foes. Routledge, Warne, and Routledge.
  • Wallace, Alfred Russel (1869) The Malay Archipelago.
  • Wood, John George, illustrated by Coleman W. S., Smith, E., Wood, T. W. (1870) The Common Moths of England. George Routledge and Sons.
  • Wood, T. W. (1871) Curiosities of Ornithology. Groombridge.
  • Darwin, Charles (2nd ed, 1874) The Descent of Man.
  • Beeton, Samuel Orchart. Illustrated by Harrison Weir, T. W. Wood and others. (1871) Beeton's Dictionary of Natural History a Compendious Cyclopaedia of the Animal Kingdom Containing Upwards of Two Thousand Complete and Distinct Articles. Ward, Lock & Tyler.
  • Darwin, Charles (1872) The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. John Murray.
  • Weir, Harrison William; Wood, T. W. (1872) Wild Animals in Freedom and Captivity. Ward, Lock, and Tyler.
  • Tegetmeier, William Bernhardt (1873) Pheasants for Coverts and Aviaries. Horace Cox. (2nd ed. appeared in 1881)
  • 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.
  • Wood, John George; Smith, Edward Alfred; Wood, T.W. (1875) Common British Beetles. George Routledge and Sons.
  • Blyth, Edward (1881) The Natural History of the Cranes. Horace Cox.
  • Sterndale, Robert A. (1885) Natural History of the Mammalia of India and Ceylon. Thacker, Spink, and Co.
  • Taylor, J. E. (1889) The Playtime Naturalist. Chatto and Windus.
  • Tegetmeier, William Bernhardt (1904) Pheasants their natural history and practical management. Horace Cox.
  • Finn, Frank, with colour plates by unknown artists, black and white drawings by T.W. Wood (1911) Talks About Birds. A&C Black.
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 23 Jun 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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