Book review: The Grouse: Artists’ Impressions

The Grouse: Artists’ Impressions

(Swan Hill Press. £35)

No bird is more popular with the sporting artist than the red grouse, and with good reason. Rodger McPhail, one of nine contemporary sporting and wildlife artists who has contributed to The Grouse, admits that ‘not only has this splendid game bird supplied me with superb sport and excellent dinners, but it has, over the past 30 years, provided a considerable percentage of my income’.

Grouse shooting is a rich man’s sport, and, as Mr McPhail explains, ‘rich men can afford the luxury of original paintings’. Browse through the pages of this handsome book and you cannot help but envy them: there is not a work here that I would not give space to. Styles and techniques may differ, but whether it is oil, scraperboard, watercolour or bronze, all capture the essence of this charismatic bird.

The Grouse is a companion volume to Swan Hill’s earlier book, The Woodcock: Artists’ Impressions, and follows the same successful format. Each of the nine artists featured writes about grouse, and the challenge of capturing such an iconic bird in their respective styles. Terence Lambert notes that any wildlife sporting artist, striving for originality, faces an almost impossible task when tackling the grouse family, as it has all been done before by such accomplished masters as Thorburn and Harrison. But he proves that it can be done with work that is outstandingly original.

Elsewhere in this volume, there are familiar paintings of coveys skimming towards the butts against an August landscape, but why not? These are the pictures sportsmen want, and such works give the artist scope for painting glorious land- and skyscapes. In addition, there are many pictures here that surprise and delight: Derek Robert-son’s amusing Punk Grouse, for example, or Ben Hoskyns’s Grouse Butt, with a pair of grouse perched on a butt. Although it is the red grouse that dominates the pages, capercaillie, black grouse and ptarmigan all slip in, too. Ashley Boon’s lekking blackcock (below) are full of life, and you have to look hard to spot the covey in Mr McPhail’s masterly Ptarmigan.

To shoot a single driven grouse will cost you £70. For half that price, this book will delight you for years to come.