This painting was commissioned in 2011 by Sir David Attenborough and painted by Ray Ching between August and December 2011. It features on the cover and pages 8 to 19 of Sir David’s book, Drawn from Paradise, The Discovery, Art and Natural History of the Birds of Paradise.
Titled ‘End to the Squandering of Beauty. Entry of the Birds of Paradise into Western Thought‘, this painting is an allegory depicting the arrival of the Birds of Paradise into European culture. These birds came as skins, prepared by New Guinea Natives who had not preserved any of the birds’ wings or feet. This gave rise to stories that, as birds without feet couldn’t ever come to land; they must therefore have come from Paradise.
All of the birds have been painted in their life size and the painting shows a noisy gathering of most familiar, European birds, swirling around, all screeching and calling at the arrival of the first Birds of Paradise, which are carried in a hammock by two young herons, rather like the stork, in legend, which is responsible for delivering our babies. The first Birds of Paradise arrived in Seville in 1522, the second came to Prague, the third to London, then Paris and this is imagined in a fantastical landscape running along the base of the picture. The Birds of Paradise included by the artist in the painting are: Splendid Astrapia, Carola’s Parotia, Paradise Riflebird, Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise, Superb bird of Paradise, Magnificent Bird of Paradise, Wilson’s Bird of Paradise, King Bird of Paradise, Blue Bird of Paradise, Red Bird of Paradise, Wallace Standard wing, Raggiana Bird of Paradise, Pale-billed Sicklebill.
The painting takes its title from a quotation by the scientist and discoverer of many Birds of Paradise, Alfred Russel Wallace in his great work, The Malay Archipeligo, 1856:
“I gazed upon this thing of beauty. I thought of the long ages of the past, during which the successive generations of this little creature had run their course, year by year, of being born, and living and dying amid these dark and gloomy woods, with no intelligent eye to gaze upon their loveliness – to all appearance such a wanton waste of beauty.”