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Henrik Grönvold (Danish, 1858 –1940), Coturnix Communis (Common Quail)

Henrik Grönvold (Danish, 1858 –1940), Coturnix Communis (Common Quail)

  • $ 20,000.00

Henrik Grönvold (Danish, 1858 –1940)
“Coturnix Communis (Common Quail)”
Prepared for Plate XXIV 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 paper or card
Signed ‘H Gronvold’ l.r.
Paper size: 8 x 5 7/8 in.
Provenance: Anonymous sale; Christie’s, London, 17 March 1999, lot 149, private collector.

“Once called the ‘Common’ Quail, this species ceased to be common in the first half of the nineteenth century. It began to get rare about the end of the first quarter of that century, but even down to the fifties was still fairly abundant. It is impossible to give a date for its general disappearance from its breeding-places in this country, owing to the wide distribution of the bird, its elusive habits, and its gradual decrease over a long period. At the present time a single nest would be an event to record. It is sometimes said that the use of modern agricultural machinery is responsible for the bird’s extinction as a breeding species with us, that its decrease is to be compared with that of the Corncrake; but this is not in itself enough to account for the fact, nor, when we consider the circumstances, is it needful to look for local incidents. Cheap and easy transit by sea has been added to cheap and easy methods of capture, and there are no longer Quail to come in any number from their winter quarters.

As late as 1838 they arrived in great numbers. One man is recorded to have killed sixteen birds with one shot on the Lincolnshire coast where the little travellers had just arrived. One great ornithologist, writing in the eighties, goes so far as to say that their far-heard call ‘is familiar to every plough-boy.’ It is a pleasing rural sound, a trisyllabic note which most writers describe by likening it to the words ‘wet-my-lips,’ many times repeated, with the accent on the first syllable; indeed a charming sound, once in very truth familiar to every ploughboy, and we meet with many mentions of it in descriptions of rural scenery and life in the poets of the first half of last century.

Occasionally I have come across farmers and other countrymen who had met with the bird in their fields, but always many years ago, and the last Quail I heard of was at Land’s End in 1903, where one was heard piping his wet-my-lips call in a field near the village. But he was alone here, and soon vanished, to be heard no more. I may here, however, quote from a letter received by the Secretary of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, from Mr. E. S. Dallas, who was fortunate enough to hear the bird in Sussex in May 1921. He writes of listening to its note while on an all-night ramble on the southern slope of the South Downs, near Harting: ‘We first heard the Quail at about 11 p.m., and after that we heard it with only short intervals throughout the night until about 3.30 a.m., when we were returning home. The characteristic note ‘ Whit-ti-tit ’ was the only one I could distinguish; we tracked it to a large field of close-grown oats (green), but, of course, it was impossible to see the birds. I am convinced there were several pairs, as the notes were heard in widely separated parts of the field. We also heard the birds the next night, but I could not find anyone in the neighbourhood who knew the Quail or its note, though I spoke with some who were by no means ignorant on the subject of bird life. I have a note from an ornithological friend that the bird was heard on the hills above Shere, Surrey, in late spring 1919, and at Warlingham in 1920.’

The Quail was common all over Europe up to latitude 64° and in the British Isles was universal, extending to the Outer Hebrides, the Orkneys and the Shetland Isles, and has been found breeding in most of the English counties. It is an extremely prolific bird, like its big relation the Partridge; and from all these facts it might seem of all birds one of those least likely to become rare. Its decline, and with us complete extinction, result from the demand for the gourmet’s table. It is destroyed in incredible numbers in Egypt and elsewhere, where it congregates before taking its northward flight over the Mediterranean; and again on its arrival in Europe. Undoubtedly a species may survive indefinitely, even if in reduced numbers, when killed in great quantities in autumn and winter: but once persecution is extended to the breeding-time, the end is in sight. The decline of the Quail in England came before a close-time was enacted. To-day no country in Europe can provide its own supplies, and the tables of the rich people who eat this smallest of game are provided from Egypt, Morocco, Malta, Sicily, and Italy. But the English demand is the main cause for the destruction, for the very reason that we have a close season for our own game, but society, the fashionable world, wants birds in the spring months. When it is no longer legal to deal in Pheasants and Grouse, the Quail, the Lapwing, and the Ruff take their place. It is easily managed. The dealer, if questioned, has only to plead that they come from abroad. Quails are brought over alive in crates, fattened in captivity, and gradually doled out as advancing spring increases the demand. They winter south of the Mediterranean, and in spring begin their journey northward. Over a million birds have been, it is said, taken on the Island of Capri during the spring migration, 70,000 to 100,000 have been consigned by a single steamer. A few years ago the R.S.P.B. received a letter of protest from a native gentleman in Malta, who wrote of the nets used there: ‘From this harbour of Valetta alone shiploads of hundreds of thousands of live Quails go into Europe, especially England. I respectfully suggest that these modes of catching Quail only be allowed on the return migration.’ In Belgium 400,000 were eaten every year (probably Belgium cannot afford this luxury since the war); the port of Marseilles received a million and a half in a year; fashionable dinners and luncheons in London during the season were responsible for the destruction of a million annually. To figures like these has to be added the number that die in transit, said to be fully half of those taken. I give these details on the authority of Mr. F. C. Selous and Count Clary, of the St. Hubert Club of French sportsmen, and they may be found in the Field of 1st October 1910. In that year the International Sporting Congress, held at Vienna, passed a resolution calling for the closing of all Quail shooting in all states during the migration periods, and the prohibition of transit and sale of Quails during the close time.

So far as England is concerned one simple remedy is needed; we have only to make the sale of wild birds, alive or dead, illegal during the time when they may not legally be killed or caught. But, like the trade in finely-plumaged birds to decorate our women, the sale of these semi-game birds out of season is a trade that pays; and England prefers to satisfy her conscience by making protests to other countries and deploring the evil deeds of Arabs and other natives who net the birds she receives and sells.

The Quail is perhaps the one bird named in this book for whose decrease or extermination we have not to thank the collector. It is as yet too soon for him to be interested. The only bird case comparable is that of the Passenger Pigeon of America. In the days of Pliny, Quail, he tells us, migrated in such numbers that when they settled on the sails of ships at night, their weight sank the ships. In recent times they crossed the Mediterranean in millions; their numbers are now computed by thousands. Less than a hundred years ago the Passenger Pigeon existed in countless millions; their numbers were such that the sky was darkened when their huge flocks flew overhead. They were killed without a thought, recklessly. To-day the Passenger Pigeon is utterly extinct. An offer of a large sum from the American Ornithologists’ Union for information of a nesting pair has met with no response; not so much as a single bird can be heard of. A live Passenger Pigeon is as unattainable as a living Great Auk.

‘It is singular that in the very limited numbers of gallinaceous birds that exist wild in this country there should be included the Capercaillie, the largest of the order, with perhaps the exception of one American species, and the diminutive Quail—a giant and a pigmy. Historically the small species is the more important of the two. . . .When we consider how bound to earth the gallinaceous birds are, seldom using their wings unless to escape from some sudden pressing danger into the nearest cover, it strikes us as very wonderful that the plump little Quail should be as great a migrant as the most aerial kinds—the Swallows and the warblers. When with us in the summer he is a dweller on the ground, like his stay-at-home relation, the Partridge; yet in his wide wanderings he crosses seas, vast deserts, and the loftiest mountain chains; and by means of this migratory instinct he has diffused himself over the three great continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa.’— Hudson’s British Birds.

‘Quails pass through Egypt on their way to their more northerly breeding quarters in March and April. Their return to Egypt is from September to November, and it is during these journeyings that vast quantities are caught in nets, which are sent to every European city for the tables of the rich. Mr. C. D. Burnett Stuart writes: ‘From Alexandria to Port Said the whole length of coast is practically hung with nets, but the Government has lately forbidden the placing of these on the foreshore which it controls. The number of Quails which migrate passes belief, for it is recorded that in the Coronation year a million were ordered and supplied for the English market alone.’—C. Whymper, Egyptian Birds.

‘England is the market to which the greater part of these netted birds are brought, and if the sale of Quails in England by poulterers is not shortly made illegal after 31st January the almost complete extinction of these beautiful little game birds cannot be very far distant.’—F. C. Selous in The Field (24th Sept. 1910).”


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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