John McEwen rss


To be astonished by nature, look no further than Claxton

11 October 2014
Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet Mark Cocker

Cape, pp.238, £14.99, ISBN: 9780224099653

Mark Cocker is the naturalist writer of the moment, with birds his special subject. His previous book, Birds and People, was a tour de force, taking the birds of the… Read more

The ring-necked parakeet, one of the most successful birds to colonise London, still looks conspicuously out of place in Hyde Park in the snow

What's eating London's songbirds?

16 August 2014
The Birds of London Andrew Self

Bloomsbury/Christopher Helm, pp.432, £50, ISBN: 9781408194041

This book, with its absurdly uninformative photographs, dismal charts and smattering of charmless drawings, looks like a report. A pity, because it is a thorough and entertaining history; the first… Read more

Portrait of a young woman with a bible in her hand by Johannes Thopas, 1680–85

No special pleading needed for this disabled Dutch master

21 June 2014
Deaf, Dumb and Brilliant: Johannes Thopas, Master Draughtsman Rudi Ekkart

Paul Holberton Publishing, pp.200, £30, ISBN: 9781907372674

To discover an ‘unknown’ is the dream of anyone connected with the arts and in Johannes Thopas (c.1626-1688/95) we have just that. This book catalogues the exhibition now transfering from… Read more

‘Study of a Velvet Crab’ c. 1870, presented by John Ruskin to the Ruskin School of Drawing (University of Oxford) in 1875

How seriously should we take Ruskin as an artist?

3 May 2014
John Ruskin: Artist and Observer Christopher Newall

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa/ Paul Holberton Publishing, pp.376, £37.50, ISBN: 9781907372575

This stout and well-designed volume nicely complements Tim Hilton’s classic biography of John Ruskin. It is the catalogue for the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (till 11… Read more

Snowy Owl

Toowit-towoo! At long last, a Collins book on owls

8 February 2014
Owls Mike Toms

William Collins, pp.419, £35, ISBN: 9780007425570

Owls have more associations for us than perhaps any other family of birds, suggested Jeremy Mynott in Birdscapes, so it is puzzling that it has taken Collins 70 years to… Read more

Great egret

Birds & People, by Mark Cocker - review

3 August 2013
Birds & People Mark Cocker

Jonathan Cape, pp.592, £40, ISBN: 9780224081740

‘A world without birds would lay waste the human heart,’ writes Mark Cocker. Following his Birds Britannica and prize-winning Crow Country, in Birds & People he embraces the planet, with… Read more


Our most exotic bird

20 October 2012

The Black Grouse (Merlin Unwin, £20) is Patrick Lurie’s first book and the first ever on the the subject. Lurie is a freelance journalist but his mission is to save… Read more


How do birds fly south?

25 February 2012
Bird Sense Tim Birkhead

Bloomsbury, pp.265, 16.99

Did you know the external ‘shell’ of the ear is the pinna? That a woman’s oestrogen level alters the way she hears the male voice, making it richer, and thus… Read more

Bearing the brunt

6 November 2010
Wojtek the Bear: Polish War Hero Aileen Orr, with an epilogue by Neil Ascherson

Birlinn, pp.200, 9.99

Ostensibly this small book is a jolly and true story (illustrated with some charming black-and-white snapshots) about the military experiences of Wojtek (pronounced Voycheck), the bear who, bought as a… Read more


Liberating Visions

2 October 2010

Victor Willing (1928–88) is perhaps the least classifiable of the brilliant early-1950s Slade generation, which includes his wife Paula Rego. Victor Willing (1928–88) is perhaps the least classifiable of the… Read more


Scottish clash

12 May 2010

Highlands and Islands: Paintings and Poems Fleming Collection, 13 Berkeley Street, W1, until 5 June Pictures are usually exhibited with closed-shop segregation from the other arts, so it is a… Read more


A towering talent

5 May 2010
Patrick Procktor: Art and Life Ian Massey

Unicorn, pp.224, 40

Ian Massey is a writer, artist and lecturer and this is his first book. There have been two previous books on Procktor: a ghosted autobiography and a slim volume to… Read more

Flower power

25 November 2009
Mrs Delaney and her Circle Mark Laird and Alicia Weisberg-Roberts (editors)

Yale Center for British Art, Sir John Soane Museum, in association with Yale University Press, pp.283, 40

Mrs Delaney (1700-88) is an inspiring example for old age; also a reproach to those who think ‘upper class’ a term of abuse and that women have only recently had… Read more

Romantic approaches

4 November 2009
John Hoyland: Scatter the Devils Andrew Lambirth

Unicorn Press, pp.160, 40

Spectator readers will know that Andrew Lambirth is a romantic, a force for the literary and poetic approach to art criticism, so he is an admirably empathetic guide to Hoyland:… Read more

The Oaks of Cheyithorne Barton

8 July 2009
The Oaks of Chevithorne Barton Michael Heathcoat Amory

Adelphi, pp.219, 25

Michael Heathcoat Amory inherited Chevithorne Barton in Devon from his grandmother. She had experienced the unimaginable loss of her husband in the First War and their three sons in the… Read more

The sweetness pictures can add to life

18 June 2008
Sargy Mann: Probably the Best Blind Painter in Peckham Peter Mann and Sargy Mann

SP Books, pp.224, 30

This is the tribute of a child to a parent, especially commendable when the very concept of fatherhood is threatened; rarer still, the co-authors are themselves artists in their separate… Read more

Poles apart

14 May 2008
Art in Exile: Polish Painters in Post-War Britain Douglas Hall

Sansom & Co, 81 (g) Pembroke Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 3EA, pp.395, 35

With more Poles in Britain than at any time since the second world war, when the 17,000 remnant of the Polish army arrived after the fall of France, this book… Read more

Flights of fancy

5 March 2008
Birds Katrina Cook

Quercus, pp.224, 25

BB’s Birds Bryan Holden

Roseworld, pp.215, 35

Did you know that the first person to cage a budgerigar was John Gould, the 19th-century English artist/naturalist? Or that the word ‘penguin’ is derived from the Welsh words ‘pen’… Read more


Blast from the past

28 November 2007

Percy Wyndham Lewis 1882–1957, Design Centre, Rugby School, until 8 December In the 1915 Vorticist Manifesto, published in the movement’s magazine Blast, Wyndham Lewis (he dropped Percy) wrote: Lewis is… Read more


Life and conflict

10 October 2007

Ever since he burst on the scene in the 1960s Michael Sandle RA has been the rogue elephant of British art. At Ludlow Castle, a perfect venue for work whose… Read more

Treasures of the South Seas

19 July 2006

The enlarged, updated and now undivided Sainsbury Centre has reopened with the most comprehensive selection of Polynesian art ever assembled; and yet, shamefully, it has received not a single review.… Read more

The Knight’s noble rescue

11 March 2006
Painting in Ireland: Topographical Views from Glin Castle edited by William Laffan

Churchill House Press, pp.269, 30

This handsome and scholarly book is a catalogue of a selection of pictures of Ireland, all, remarkably, collected over the past 30 years by Desmond Fitzgerald, 29th Knight of Glin,… Read more

Cheeps, tweets and warbles

19 November 2005
Why Birds Sing David Rothenberg

Allen Lane, pp.258, 16.99

A Bedside Book of Birds Graeme Gibson

Bloomsbury, pp.370, 20

In his old age John Ruskin lamented, ‘I have made a great mistake. I have wasted my life with mineralogy, which has led to nothing. Had I devoted myself to… Read more

Haunting melancholy

14 May 2005

As a former winner of Britain’s most prestigious award for painters, the John Moores prize (other winners include Hamilton, Hilton, Hockney, Hoyland), a new show by Andrzej Jackowski should not… Read more

Visual agility

7 May 2005

It is difficult to place oneself in the position of the pioneers of graphic art shown at the Estorick Collection: their extraordinary leaps of the imagination have become the standard… Read more