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Henrik Grönvold (Danish, 1858 –1940), Tetrao Urogallus (Capercaillie)

Henrik Grönvold (Danish, 1858 –1940), Tetrao Urogallus (Capercaillie)

  • $ 20,000.00

Henrik Grönvold (Danish, 1858 –1940)
“Tetrao Urogallus (Capercaillie)”
Prepared for Plate IV 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 5/8 x 6
Provenance: Anonymous sale; Christie’s, London, 17 March 1999, lot 149, private collector.

“This noble bird of the pines became totally extinct in Scotland as long ago as 1760, and in Ireland its final extinction occurred about the same time. There is, however, evidence to show that for a century and a half before that date the bird was very scarce in Scotland, and that, on account of its rarity and the esteem it was held in for the table, it was very much sought after. The large male bird, in his magnificent black and green glossed plumage, formed indeed a suitable present to princes and nobles in former days. Its departure was thus hastened; but Mr. Harvie-Browne attributes its extinction to the destruction of great forests by fire, the cutting down of the same by man as late as the days of Cromwell, and the wasting away of the forests from other natural causes. He further says: ‘If we accept the above as the most probable causes, and come to examine into the details of the testimony, we find that it was not until the beginning of the eighteenth century that any large extent of young wood was planted nor until the end of the eighteenth century that arboriculture became general in Scotland. The latter would appear to have been too late to afford any fresh sustenance to the indigenous Capercaillies, but it yielded an abundant supply by the date of the restoration of the species in 1837-38 for the reintroduced birds.’

Here, then, with its evanishment, ends the first part of the Capercaillie’s history in Great Britain. Vanished indeed! The historian of the Great Auk has used the seemingly strange expression, ‘The living Garefowl is extinct!’ which might well call up a smile in the uninformed reader, who does not know the value attached to preserved specimens of a lost species. So long as specimens exist the dead bird is not regarded as wholly and for ever lost; but rather as having a kind of post-mortem existence, highly advantageous to science—a quiet immortality aloof from the perturbations of nature. When the Capercaillie, after a long and gradual decline, had finally gone out, it was found that not one preserved example existed; consequently, we do not know just what the bird was like. Probably it differed somewhat from the Capercaillie of Northern Europe; and we may be certain of this—that the British race had existed apart from the Continental races from exceedingly remote times, that its isolation must have been brought about by geologic changes, which severed this country from the mainland. Consequently, the Capercaillie, which now happily ranks as a member of the British avi-fauna, is not an indigenous bird, but introduced, and, like the Red-legged Partridge and the Pheasant, an exotic.

With the second part of its history—namely, the restoration of the species, I have no business to deal in this paper; but no reader will grudge me the pleasure of saying something on the subject, since this forms the one bright and pleasant chapter in a story which is otherwise altogether dark and disastrous. And here I wish to express my gratitude to Mr. Harvie-Browne’s volume on the Capercaillie in Scotland, which contains a full account of the reintroduction of that fine bird, and its subsequent progress down to the present time. In 1827, and again in 1829, some attempts to introduce the Capercaillie were made, but were not successful. The late Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton then took the matter up. He had been staying at Taymouth Castle on the Tay, and ‘influenced by a desire to introduce these noble birds into Scotland, coupled with that of making Lord Breadalbane some return for his recent kindness,’ he sent out to Sweden and procured some birds—one lot in 1837, a second in 1838, in all forty-eight individuals. From this centre (Taymouth) the birds have spread, and formed numberless fresh colonies during the last half-century.

‘The area now occupied by them,’ says Mr. Harvie-Browne, ‘comprises Perthshire—the headquarters of the species—Forfar, Fife, Kinross, Clackmannan, Stirling, and Dumbarton; and also the neighbouring portions of Argyle, Inverness, Aberdeen, and Kincardine, in the west and north; and the Lothians and south shore of the Firth of Forth in the south.’

The book I quote from contains a map to illustrate the Capercaillie’s extension of range in Scotland; it is spotted and blotched with red colour to show the localities where the birds have colonised; and I do not think that anyone who admires a bird, and laments the impoverishment of our wild bird life, can look on a more beautiful map than this, which teaches so hopeful a lesson. It encourages us to think that others will arise in the future to emulate Sir Fowell Buxton and Lord Breadalbane’s example. There are wealthy men among us who spend vast sums of money and much time and energy in the pursuit (and extermination) of the big game of Africa. Surely it would be a nobler task to bring back to their country some of the fine types that have been lost! The Great Bustard, for instance, which is now thriving and even breeding in England in the unnatural conditions of captivity; it would perhaps cost no more to restore this bird to our country than to slaughter a hundred elephants. It is true that the amusement of slaying a century of elephants with explosive bullets would be greater while it lasted; but it should afford a man a more enduring satisfaction to be able to think that he has accomplished, or even only attempted, some task for which posterity will bless rather than execrate his memory.

‘This chieftain Grouse, the pride of the northern forests, has long since disappeared from the scene where his race for ages dwelt; the gallant Capercaillie of Scotland is no more. The year ‘45 was a memorable one in the records of the clan, for then he was last seen in Strathspey, though he held on in Strath Glass and Glen Moriston till 1769. Still he claims a place in my History of British Birds, and though the native branch of his family is extinct, collateral ones continue to hold sway in other lands, and individuals from them have several times been introduced with a view to their re-naturalisation here.’— Rev. F. O. Morris, History of British Birds.

‘In the British Isles the Capercaillie, Capercailzie, or Wood-Grouse, as it is variously called, appears to be confined to the counties of Perth and Forfar, in Scotland, and a few adjoining districts. These birds were introduced into this locality in the year 1837 by Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton. They appear to have been previously exterminated, both in Scotland and Ireland, towards the end of the last century. The only evidence of their ever-having inhabited England is to be found in the occurrence of the bones of this species in the caves of Teesdale and amongst the Roman remains at Settle in North Yorkshire.’ -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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