There is something rather majestic and captivating about peacocks, or to be more precise, the male peacock. When its blue-green iridescent feathers are fanned out, it’s a sign of courtship and a way to impress the more subdued peahen.


The peacock has been depicted in art since the ancient times and is seen as a symbol of beauty, rebirth and wealth, as well as of sinful pride. The birds originally came from India over 4,000 years ago where they were symbols of royalty and from the 1800s, they began to populate Western visual and decorative culture.


This curation presents a chronological display of peacocks depicted in art and the many ways this magnificent bird has been interpreted by artists throughout time.

10 artworks
  • A Species of Chinese Peacock

    In China, the peacock was a symbol of the Ming Dynasty, representing divinity, beauty, power, rank, and beauty. With its tail of 100 eyes, the peacock is also associated with the goddess of compassion Guan Yin.


    Peacock also symbolises culture and civilisation in Chinese paintings. It is said that the peacock is a phoenix born in the world of mortals. In the eyes of the Chinese people, the peacock is the kindest and most intelligent bird, an auspicious symbol of happiness.


    And in Fengshui theories, the peacock represents yang, the light to the dark, positivity over negativity.

    A Species of Chinese Peacock
    unknown artist
    Gouache on paper
    H 81 x W 47.5 cm
    Wellcome Collection
    A Species of Chinese Peacock
    Image credit: Wellcome Collection

  • A Peacock in a Crowned Alchemical Flask

    A peacock in a flask "represents the stage in the alchemical process when the substance breaks out into many colours", according to Salomon Trismosin, the legendary German Renaissance alchemist.


    This drawing is one of a sub-series in his 16th century manuscript 'Splendor solis' (Splendour of the Sun), showing crowned alchemical flasks with symbols contained inside of the various stages of the Great Work.

    A Peacock in a Crowned Alchemical Flask; Representing the Stage in the Alchemical Process When the Substance Breaks Out into Many Colours
    Edith Annie Ibbs (1863–1937) and Salomon Trismosin (after)
    Watercolour on paper (?)
    H 41.8 x W 19.6 cm
    Wellcome Collection
    A Peacock in a Crowned Alchemical Flask; Representing the Stage in the Alchemical Process When the Substance Breaks Out into Many Colours
    Image credit: Wellcome Collection

  • The White Peacock

    A peacock with white plumage, or an albino peafowl, are quite rare. While they share similar characteristics with the more well-known blue peacock, the white colour results from a genetic mutation, a condition called leucism which causes pigment cells to fail to migrate from the neural crest during development.

    The White Peacock c.1750
    British School
    Oil on canvas
    H 176 x W 214 cm
    Durham University
    The White Peacock
    Image credit: Durham University

  • A Peacock

    Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) was the leading figure in the second phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. His paintings played an important part in the Aesthetic Movement and the history of international Symbolism.


    This is a coloured copy of a plain white plaster tablet designed by Burne-Jones in memory of his close friend Laura Lyttleton (née Tennant) who died in childbirth in 1886 within the first year of her marriage. The original was installed in the church of St Andrew in Mells, Somerset, while the coloured version was made for Burne-Jones's own house The Grange in Fulham.


    The artist had been studying Byzantine art and the use of gold detailing shows he took direct inspiration from this artistic period.

    A Peacock 1886
    Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898)
    Oil & gilt gesso on wood
    H 237.5 x W 133 cm
    Paintings Collection
    A Peacock
    Image credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  • A Peacock

    This mural was part of a larger decorative scheme conceived and executed by Edward Burne-Jones for his granddaughter's nursery in his country residence of North End House in Rottingdean. His granddaughter, Angela Thirkell, became a well-known author and included an account of the painting in her book 'Three Houses', published in 1931.


    Queen Mary was shown this painting in 1932 and recognised it from Thirkell’s book.


    Burne-Jones' 1886 painting of 'A Peacock' gave him the idea of a happy mood, something he desired to replicate in the nursery.

    A Peacock late 19th C
    Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898)
    Oil on plaster
    H 122.2 x W 82.5 cm
    Paintings Collection
    A Peacock
    Image credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  • Design with Peacocks

    This oil panel features a white albino peacock with red eyes perched on a tree in a seemingly mythological landscape.


    The panel hangs in Kelmscott Manor, the Cotswold retreat of William Morris, Victorian textile designer, poet, novelist & Father of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Edward and his wife, the writer and artist Stephanie Scott-Snell, lived for a brief period in the Manor as self-described ‘guardians of the most beautiful house in the world’ and created art inspired by its beauty.

    Design with Peacocks 1940s
    Edward Scott-Snell (1912–1988)
    Oil on panel
    H 180 x W 68.5 cm
    Society of Antiquaries of London
    Design with Peacocks
    © the copyright holder. Image credit: Society of Antiquaries of London

  • The Peacock and the Cloud

    An imaginative interpretation of a peacock by Raymond Lister, an English blacksmith/ironworker, author, artist, and a leading authority on Samuel Palmer, the 19th century British landscape painter.

    The Peacock and the Cloud
    Raymond Lister (1919–2001)
    Tempera (?) on ivory
    H 10.4 x W 7.9 cm
    Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum
    The Peacock and the Cloud
    © the copyright holder. Image credit: Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum

  • Constellation of Eyes

    A bright abstract explosion of colours, with a peacock and its fanned out feathers at the heart of the painting.

    Constellation of Eyes 1989
    Ross Hadley
    Oil on canvas
    H 244.5 x W 260 cm
    RNIB College Loughborough
    Constellation of Eyes
    © the copyright holder. Image credit: RNIB College Loughborough

  • Study of a Peacock

    This study of a peacock was typical of English painter Robin Philipson's style with its bold use of colour and liberal use of heavy impasto. He was inspired by the American Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1950's.


    Philipson was an influential artist within the Scottish art scene for over three decades, and was appointed President of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1973 which he held until 1983.

    Study of a Peacock
    Robin Philipson (1916–1992)
    Oil on canvas
    H 100 x W 100 cm
    NHS Lothian Charity – Tonic Collection
    Study of a Peacock
    © the artist's estate. Image credit: NHS Lothian Charity – Tonic Collection

  • Orientation Panel; Peacock

    A contemporary painting of a peacock that shows off the bird's jewel-like colours and beauty to full effect.

    Orientation Panel; Peacock 2008
    Amy Ward
    Acrylic on board
    H 115 x W 115 cm
    Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board
    Orientation Panel; Peacock
    © the copyright holder. Image credit: Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board