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  • Place of origin:

    Japan (made)

  • Date:

    19th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Hand-coloured woodcut on Japanese paper

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Walter Strachan

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level E, case I, shelf 6, box E

This hand-coloured Japanese woodcut of an owl forms part of a collection of prints, drawings and paintings of owls amassed by the poet and shcolar Walter Strachan (1903-1994).Many were one-off gifts or greetings; some were proofs from artist books. This hand-coloured Japanese woodcut is an unusual addition to Strachan’s collection, being a 19th-century rather than a contemporary print. The woodcut technique originated in China but has a strong tradition in Japan.

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…”

Physical description

Hand-coloured woodcut on Japanese paper of an owl in a tree. The branches are black and white but green and orange colouring has been added to the leaves. The owl is black and white, with some orange. A mountainous landscape is suggested in the background in grey. Japanese inscriptions have been added in red down the outside of the platemark and in black and red to the lower right of image.

Place of Origin

Japan (made)


19th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Hand-coloured woodcut on Japanese paper


Height: 23.2 cm plate, Width: 17.2 cm plate, Width: 19 cm image including inscription, Height: 35.4 cm sheet, Width: 28.8 cm sheet

Object history note

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.

Descriptive line

Hand-coloured woodcut, owl, anonymous, 19th century; Japan.


Japanese paper


Woodcut coloured by hand

Subjects depicted



Images Online; Prints


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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