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Not currently on display at the V&A

Eagle Owl

Print
1797 (published)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This print of an Eagle Owl was made by the artist Thomas Bewick for his book A History of British Birds, Volume I (The History and Description of Land Birds) published in 1797. It was acquired by the poet and scholar Walter Strachan (1903-1994) for his collection of images of owls. The printmaking technique that Thomas Bewick used for his illustrations was known as wood engraving. In wood engraving the design that is to be printed is made on a block of wood such as box. The design is then cut into the wood, across rather than along the grain. A block cut in this way has the advantage that it is less likely to splinter and can be cut cleanly with equal pressure in all directions. It can be worked very finely and more delicate effects are achieved. The block is then inked and the image printed on the paper. The fine lines cut into the wood are beneath the surface which carries the ink, and they therefore print white. The technique is sometimes known as the 'white line method'. Thomas Bewick was the first engraver to exploit fully the advantages of this technique.

Strachan was fascinated by the art of the book. His interest was inspired by a visit to an exhibition of artists’ books at the National Gallery in London in May 1945. In due course he wrote many articles on the subject, as well as a major reference work, The Artist and the Book in France (published 1969); he also encouraged successive Keepers of the National Art Library at the V&A “to buy them for England.” To this end he visited France every year, to meet the artists, and acquired proof pages to illustrate his articles and to show to potential purchasers of the books, including the V&A. Over the years he amassed a collection of images of owls; some of these were illustrations from livres d’artistes, and others were designed especially for him as gifts or greetings. The collection of owls began with a visit to the artist Roger Chastel (1897-1981) in 1952, where he witnessed the printing of Le Bestiaire de Paul Eluard. In a subsequent article (“Genesis and Growth of a Collection”, for Connoisseur, 1972) he explained: “My article on Chastel’s Bestiaire had the happy result of bringing me a special print on Auvergne paper of the owl which I had admired in the book. Contacts in the art-world of Paris are close and friendly, and I was marked down as an owl-man, in consequence of which I have gradually been given dedicated owl prints and originals in every medium from pen and ink to enamel…”


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Wood engraving
Brief Description
Whiteline wood-engraving, 'Eagle Owl or Great Eared Owl', from A History of British Birds, Vol. I; by Thomas Bewick, ca. 1797.
Physical Description
This wood engraving shows an eagle owl in black and white against a pink background.
Dimensions
  • Print height: 11.6cm
  • Print width: 8.2cm
  • Sheet height: 28.3cm
  • Sheet width: 21.9cm
Credit line
Bequeathed by Walter Strachan
Object history
This forms part of a collection of prints, drawings and paintings of owls bequeathed to the V&A by Walter Strachan (1903-1994). Strachan, a scholar and collector of Livres d'Artistes, became friendly with a large number of artists, who, on hearing that he had a fondness for owls, began sending him images to add to his collection.
Subject depicted
Literary ReferenceA History of British Birds
Summary
This print of an Eagle Owl was made by the artist Thomas Bewick for his book A History of British Birds, Volume I (The History and Description of Land Birds) published in 1797. It was acquired by the poet and scholar Walter Strachan (1903-1994) for his collection of images of owls. The printmaking technique that Thomas Bewick used for his illustrations was known as wood engraving. In wood engraving the design that is to be printed is made on a block of wood such as box. The design is then cut into the wood, across rather than along the grain. A block cut in this way has the advantage that it is less likely to splinter and can be cut cleanly with equal pressure in all directions. It can be worked very finely and more delicate effects are achieved. The block is then inked and the image printed on the paper. The fine lines cut into the wood are beneath the surface which carries the ink, and they therefore print white. The technique is sometimes known as the 'white line method'. Thomas Bewick was the first engraver to exploit fully the advantages of this technique.



Strachan was fascinated by the art of the book. His interest was inspired by a visit to an exhibition of artists’ books at the National Gallery in London in May 1945. In due course he wrote many articles on the subject, as well as a major reference work, The Artist and the Book in France (published 1969); he also encouraged successive Keepers of the National Art Library at the V&A “to buy them for England.” To this end he visited France every year, to meet the artists, and acquired proof pages to illustrate his articles and to show to potential purchasers of the books, including the V&A. Over the years he amassed a collection of images of owls; some of these were illustrations from livres d’artistes, and others were designed especially for him as gifts or greetings. The collection of owls began with a visit to the artist Roger Chastel (1897-1981) in 1952, where he witnessed the printing of Le Bestiaire de Paul Eluard. In a subsequent article (“Genesis and Growth of a Collection”, for Connoisseur, 1972) he explained: “My article on Chastel’s Bestiaire had the happy result of bringing me a special print on Auvergne paper of the owl which I had admired in the book. Contacts in the art-world of Paris are close and friendly, and I was marked down as an owl-man, in consequence of which I have gradually been given dedicated owl prints and originals in every medium from pen and ink to enamel…”
Collection
Accession Number
E.226-1994

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record createdOctober 28, 2004
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