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Henrik Grönvold (Danish, 1858 –1940), Machetes Pugnax (Ruff and Reeve)

Henrik Grönvold (Danish, 1858 –1940), Machetes Pugnax (Ruff and Reeve)

  • $ 20,000.00

Henrik Grönvold (Danish, 1858 –1940)
“Machetes Pugnax (Ruff and Reeve)”
Prepared for Plate XIV W.H. Hudson and L. Gardiner, Rare, Vanishing and Lost British Birds (1923)
Pencil and watercolor heightened with gouache, some with touches of gum Arabic on card
Signed ‘H Gronvold’ l.l.
Paper size: 8 3/4 x 5 1/4 in.
Provenance: Anonymous sale; Christie’s, London, 17 March 1999, lot 149, private collector.

“The Ruff with his developed ear-tufts and neck frill, looking like an immense Elizabethan collar, or a shield
with a quaint head for a centre, presents a very singular appearance, as the accompanying drawing will serve to show. These were its nuptial ornaments, assumed in May and shed in June or July. To make themselves still more conspicuous during the season of courtship, the birds have the curious custom of uniting in what are called ‘hills of Ruffs.’ The ‘hill’ is a small hillock on a marshy flat, which the birds select as a meeting-place; every morning this spot is resorted to by a number of individuals, who come together to display their feather ornaments and to fight with each other, probably for possession of the females. In the districts frequented by the birds, it was the custom of the fowlers to find the ‘hills’ and set small horse-hair snares on them to capture the birds; and to the annual persecution of the birds in this way during the breeding season, we must attribute the extermination of the Ruff and Reeve in England.

Down to 1834, the species was described as ‘common’ in Norfolk, especially at Reedham and Acle. In Pennant’s time it frequented suitable localities in the East Riding of Yorkshire, as well as in the Isle of Ely and Lincolnshire. Colonel Montagu, when he journeyed through Lincolnshire early in the nineteenth century to inquire into the status of this species, found that already ‘they had become much more scarce than they were before the large tract of the fens was trained and enclosed.’ They still haunted the county in ever decreasing numbers until the collector destroyed the remnant left from the persecution of the marshmen. In North Lincolnshire eggs were taken in 1856, and one nest with two eggs as recently as 1882, the female bird being shot from the nest. ‘This last probably marks the extinction of the species in this country,’ says Mr. Cordeaux.

Lubbock, in his Fauna of Norfolk (1845), gives the price of freshly-caught birds as 6s, a couple, adding that twenty years previously they fetched only tenpence or a shilling apiece. He attributes the great decrease in its numbers of late years to the beauty of the bird having caused it to be more than ever sought after. A Ruff ‘with his show on,’ which is the provincial phrase by which the fen-men designate one of these birds in the breeding plumage, is exactly the creature which all bird preservers eagerly snatch up, being purchased not only by the naturalist, but by anyone desiring a ‘pretty object in a glass case.’ In this its favourite county it continued to breed long after Lubbock’s time. Stevenson, in the second volume of his Birds of Norfolk (1870), laments the loss within recent times of the Avocet, Black Tern, and Blacktailed Godwit, and adds: ‘The Ruff and the Reeve, represented by only a few pairs and in one locality, must shortly be added to the list if the timely protection of the law be not invoked to protect it. . . . In this county in former times not only the marshy portions of the Broads district, but also the western fens, appear to have been frequented by these birds in considerable numbers.’ They were, he says, no doubt plentiful enough on the Hockwold and Feltwell Fens between twenty and thirty years ago. ‘In my own notes for the last sixteen years I find frequent entries with reference to both birds and eggs sent up to Norwich for sale from the Hickling marshes, and in the summer of 1866, when there were an unusual number of nests, a corresponding supply of Reeves’ eggs found their way into the market, and of skins into the hands of our bird-stuffers.’ ... As long since as 1824 Messrs. Sheppard and Whitear attributed the growing scarcity of this species in the Norfolk marshes to birds and eggs being alike largely sought after for the London market. They recount a story which illustrates the devotion of the bird to its nest. A Reeve was captured on her nest by a warrener’s boy and taken to his master. The man, with a tenderer heart than that of the Lincolnshire miscreant, set it at liberty, and next day the bird was found back on her nest again.

On the clinging of this and other species to an old nesting-ground, Stevenson adds:
‘So strong, I believe, is the attachment of certain birds to the place of their birth, and so unerring the instinct which directs them, though absent in winter, to return year after year to the same spot, that, provided only a single pair survives to represent the indigenous race, the ancestral haunt will not be deserted; but if that last native pair be destroyed, their place is rarely, if ever, again filled, even though many representatives of the species on their migratory course may visit our shores in spring; for these too are seeking some far-off home, and the local race may thus pass away for ever.’

Practically the Ruff and Reeve have so passed away. We have already seen in Stevenson’s account of the Black-Tailed Godwit’s extermination, that for twenty years after that mournful event one or two pairs annually returned to the old haunts and attempted to breed. This long remained the case with the Ruff and Reeve. Professor Newton believed that one pair annually nested at Hickling, Norfolk, down to the end of the nineteenth century, but only to have their eggs ‘poached.’ In 1907 a nest was found in the Norfolk Broads, the first known with certainty since 1889, and a few probably still return to breed. In 1901 Yorkshire and Durham each laid claim to a nest on the borderland of the two counties, even as Yorkshire and Lincolnshire contested for the honour of possessing the last Avocet. In old days the Ruff’s district extended as far north as Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Mr. John Cordeaux writes (Zoologist , 1890): ‘The occasional appearance of Ruffs and Reeves in the future on our coast district, during the periods of their double passage, may reasonably be expected, but, unless England becomes dispeopled and uncultivated, nothing can ever bring back in numbers or variety the wealth of the ancient avi-fauna.’

Howard Saunders notes in his Manual that these birds were taken for the table in spring especially, because game was not then to be had. In the same way an onslaught is made upon the Ruffs and Reeves of Holland at the present day, and they may be sometimes seen in London poulterers’ shops in spring in full breeding plumage.

‘The Ruff, formerly an abundant nesting species in Britain, was practically wiped out during the first half of the nineteenth century; it was good to eat, and easy to kill when obsessed with its spring madness; so soon as it was rare the collectors took care that no eggs were hatched. By 1880 very few nesting pairs remained, and during the last forty years, though birds have occasionally attempted to nest, most of the eggs laid are in private collections.’— Coward’s Birds of the British Isles.

‘The Ruff and Reeve used formerly to breed in many of the marshy districts of England; but drainage, and the practice of capturing the birds for the table in spring, when game is out of season, have so far diminished their numbers that they are now little more than visitors on the spring migration, and again more abundantly in autumn. In Lincolnshire, where the species was once plentiful, a female was shot from her nest, in defiance of the law, in 1882. and in Norfolk a few harassed birds sometimes rear their broods in spite of the endeavours of collectors to obtain the adults with the eggs.’— Saunders’s Manual.

‘A pair nested 1901, 1902, and 1903 near Teesmouth (Durham). In Norfolk Broads 1907 (and possibly other years); eggs said to have been taken Lancs 1910. (Some doubt exists as to the latter, which were shown at a meeting of the British Ornithologists Union.)’— Witherby’s Handbook.

‘The Ruff is a rare summer migrant to the British Islands, a few pairs still occasionally breeding in the Norfolk Broads; but it is more abundant on spring and autumn migration. Formerly it bred in great numbers in most of the marshy districts of England, from Northumberland southwards.’— Seebohm’s British Birds.”


Henrik Grönvold studied drawing in Copenhagen and worked first as a draughtsman of the Royal Danish Army’s artillery and an illustrator at the Biological Research Station of Copenhagen. In 1892, Grönvold left Denmark for London, employed at the Natural History Museum preparing anatomical specimens. There he became a skilled taxidermist and established a reputation as an artist. He was employed at the Museum until 1895 when he accompanied William Ogilvie-Grant on an expedition to the Salvage Islands. After this expedition, Grönvold worked at the Museum in an unofficial capacity as an artist for decades and only left London to attend an ornithological congress in Berlin.

Grönvold’s illustrations mainly appeared in scientific periodicals such as the Proceedings and Transactions of the Zoological Society, The Ibis, and the Avicultural Magazine. In these publications, he drew plates for William Ogilvie-Grant, George Albert Boulenger, and Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas, among others. Grönvold also completed numerous plates for Walter Rothschild, many of which appeared in Rothschild’s journal Novitates Zoologicae. Grönvold mostly illustrated birds and eggs, rare and newly discovered species from many parts of the world, and mostly worked in lithographs.

Among the books, Grönvold illustrated is George Shelley’s Birds of Africa, which contained 57 plates, many of which had not been illustrated before. He illustrated W. L. Buller’s books on the birds of New Zealand, Brabourne’s Birds of South America, Henry Eliot Howard’s The British Warblers (1907–14), Charles William Beebe’s A Monograph of the Pheasants (1918–22), and Herbert Christopher Robinson’s The Birds of the Malay Peninsula (1929–76). He completed 600 hand-colored plates for twelve volumes of The Birds of Australia (1910–27) by Gregory Macalister Mathews. Grönvold subsequently provided numerous illustrations for Mathews’ The Birds of Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands … (1928) and A Supplement to The Birds of Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands … (1936).

by Henrik Grönvold for William Henry Hudson

William Henry Hudson (1841-1922) was a naturalist, author, and staunch advocate for avian preservation and conservancy. Hudson’s lifelong commitment to protecting the environment stemmed from his youth in Argentina, where he marveled at the beauty of nature, spending endless hours watching the drama of forest and field unfold before him. This idyllic upbringing was beautifully penned in the artist’s work Far Away and Long Ago (1918), which remains a cult favorite amongst many novelists, including Ernest Hemingway, who wrote that Hudson’s book was a must-read for any young writer.

Hudson gravitated to studying birds, which guided his life’s work as an ornithologist and author of numerous tomes on the subject. When he settled in England in 1874, he joined the numerous societies for naturalists of the period and became a founding member of the Royal Society to protect birds.

In 1894, W.H. Hudson produced a leaflet titled Lost British Birds produced for Society for the Protection of Birds. Its purpose was to shed light on thirteen “lost” birds which he defined as those “which no longer breed in this country and visit our shores only as rare stragglers, or, bi-annually, in their migrations to and from their breeding areas on the continent Europe,” to concretely show the effect of industrialism, game hunting, and fashion on the sustainability of certain bird species. This pamphlet was illustrated with 15 rudimentary black and white line drawings by A.D. McCormick. Almost immediately after producing his brochure, Hudson began to collect notes for a future publication that would elaborate upon and update facts on endangered and extinct bird species.

Hudson spent the nineteen-teens and early twenties preparing his next publication. When his notes were organized, and he tapped the celebrated ornithological painter Henrik Grönvold (1858-1940) to produce a sophisticated full-color composition for each bird he intended to discuss at length. However, Hudson suddenly died in 1922 before the publication could come to fruition. Hudson’s colleague, Linda Gardiner, pushed the project forward to see it through in 1923.


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