Historical Singapore Birds Illustration Part 1

Birding in Singapore has a recreational and scientific activity for a long time. In the 19th century, shooting a bird literally meant shooting it with a rifle. The recreational aspect of this is manifested in the naming of certain class of birds as game birds, and collection of birds meant collecting bags of shot birds, either for eating or for bragging rights. The more serious collector went through various means to shoot and collect different bird species that in ended up in private collections and museums for scientific cataloging.

As we progress to a gentler means of birding, the binoculars and scopes replaced the gun. And now, many birders supplement or replace their binoculars with digital cameras.

Before bird photographs were common or even available, guide books that described the avifauna of any region needed detailed description through text, and artistic rendition done by those who had access to museum skins of birds. One such person was Henrik Grönvold. He was a Danish born naturalist and artist active in the first half of the 20th century. He started work at the Natural History Museum in London preparing anatomical specimen, and was skilled as a taxidermist. He progressed to bird illustration armed with the knowledge gained on the job.

There are many books in which he was commissioned as an artist, as his skill was much sought after. One of them was the seminal work on the birds of the Malay Peninsula, by Robinson & Chasen simply titled The Birds of the Malay Peninsula. Covering 5 volumes starting in 1927 to 1976, it is an ornithological work that serves an an important source of historical avifauna information for the region. Grönvold was involved in the illustration for the first 4 volumes.

Having obtained a rare second-hand set of these books, I have reproduced a few of these paintings from the first volume below. The style of illustration may be a bit outdated, and having worked on them purely based on museum skins rather than having seen the real bird (he never traveled to our region), there are some oddities. Nonetheless there is still a lot of charm in these drawings. So 87 years after publication, here are some of them for everyone to enjoy.

 

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