John McEwen

In defence of John James Audubon 

The text of this well illustrated book is mostly John James Audubon’s, from journals unpublished in his lifetime. Part I describes his 1826 voyage from America to England to set in motion the great task – which would take 11 years – of fundraising for the printing of his mighty double elephant folio book in

Invasion of the bread-snatchers

Little Toller Books, in Dorset, aims to publish old and new writing on nature by the very best writers and artists, in books of the highest quality at affordable prices. This offering, neat enough to fit an overcoat pocket, ticks every box. Its author, Tim Dee, co-editor of The Poetry of Birds, has been a

His muse and anchor

Misery memoirs are in vogue. There is much misery in this harrowing account of married life with John Bellany (1942–2013) CBE, RA, Hon RSA — to 20th- century Scottish art what his hero and acquaintance Hugh MacDiarmid was to Scottish poetry — but its inspiring message is that love conquers all. Helen Bellany is not

Bird of ill omen

With bird books the more personal the better. Joe Shute was once a crime correspondent and is today a Telegraph senior staff feature writer. It is his investigative journalism, a series of meetings with people who deal with ravens first-hand, which provides novelty. Historical, mythological and other diversions add ballast. In the prologue he writes:

Wise old birds

Owls, frontally eyed and nose beaked, look the most human of birds. Accordingly, they have for millennia been prominent in mythology and literature and their image continues to be commercialised beyond compare. They offer an author rich pickings, but in a competitive market a strong personal subtext is helpful. That improbable bestseller H is for

Home from the hill

As well as being a leading architectural historian Mary Miers is an editor at Country Life. For her latest book she has mined the magazine’s unmatchable picture library and the photographs are by Country Life regulars Simon Jauncey, who lives in Highland Perthshire, and the late Paul Barker, who sadly died before publication. His memory

An artist of the quickening world

What is it about Yorkshire, particularly Leeds, that it has bred or trained such a succession of famous modern sculptors? Moore, Hepworth, Armitage and, although it stretches the point, Hirst. All attended Leeds art schools and Armitage was born there on 18 July 1916. Everyone knows Moore, Hepworth, Hirst. But Armitage? How many under 60

Raptor rapture

The fewer birds there are, the more books about them, particularly of the literary kind. Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk swept all the prizes; and James Macdonald Lockhart has already won a £10,000 Royal Society of Literature Award for Non-Fiction to fund research for his debut. It is of the quest variety, recently popularised

To be astonished by nature, look no further than Claxton

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 entire world as its subject. Craig Brown described it as ‘the sort of masterpiece that comes along only once or twice a decade’. Expectations could

What’s eating London’s songbirds?

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 to cover the entire London area within a 20-mile radius of St Paul’s, from the earliest record, in Roman times, to the present. A chronology

No special pleading needed for this disabled Dutch master

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 Aachen to the Rembrandt House Museum, Amsterdam (12 July–5 October). The curator is Rudi Ekkart, who discovered Thopas’s meticulous lead-pencil (plumbago) drawings on parchment as

How seriously should we take Ruskin as an artist?

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 May) and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (4 July–28 September). A Scottish venue is especially appropriate. Ruskin (1819–1900) was a Londoner but proudly Scots by

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

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 add this ‘Natural History of the British and Irish Species’ to its famous New Naturalist Series. It is of course primarily a zoological work, with

Birds & People, by Mark Cocker – review

‘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 the help of the wildlife photographer, David Tipling, and the ‘650 contributors from 81 countries’ to whom the book is dedicated. He begins his cultural

Our most exotic bird

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 tetrao tetrix britannicus (the britannicus added in 1913). He devotes much of his time protecting a black cock and a couple of  its grey hens

How do birds fly south?

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 may affect her choice of mate? That Pride and Prejudice was published the year (1813) that Europeans discovered the kiwil? That Leonardo da Vinci ‘was

Bearing the brunt

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 cub by Polish soldiers in Persia, earned name, rank and number as the mascot of the 22nd Company of the Artillery Supply Command, 2nd Polish

Liberating Visions

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 brilliant early-1950s Slade generation, which includes his wife Paula Rego. So it is uniquely appropriate that this first major posthumous exhibition should be at the

Scottish clash

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 joy to find the bounds broken by this exuberant celebration of one of the oldest and most beautiful places on earth. The show announces the

A towering talent

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 celebrate his 60th birthday. About the second, one reviewer wrote that what was next required was ‘a full retrospective to answer the critical question that