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  • Place of origin:

    Paris (published)

  • Date:

    1949 (published)
    1949 (inscribed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Prassinos, Mario, born 1916 - died 1985 (artist)
    Editions d'Auteuil (publishers)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Aquatint and etching on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Walter Strachan

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level E, case MP, shelf 55, box A

This image is a proof of an illustration to the artist book Le Bestiarie ou le Cortège d'Orphée by Guillaume d'Apollinaire, published by Editions d'Auteuil, Paris, 1965. Apollinaire (1880-1918) was a highly original poet whose visual imagery with surrealist juxtapositions inspired many artists to illustrate his work, the most popular being Alcools, first published with a frontispiece by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) in 1913. A number of artists illustrated his Bestiaire. It is a collection of short poems, each representing the qualities of a particular animal. When first published, in 1911, it was illustrated with woodcuts by Raoul Dufy (1877-1953). Mario Prassinos (1916-1985) was a painter involved early on in surrealism, gradually moving away to produce more non-figurative work. He illustrated a number of books between 1937 and 1947, the most famous being The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) and Romeo e Giulietta by Matteo Bandello (1485-1561).

Prassinos particularly made a name for himself as a tapestry designer and a strong design element can be seen in all his work. He preferred black, white and grey rather than colour in his paintings and tapestries. This made wood-engraving or aquatint the most suitable media for his illustrative work, where pattern of line or tone can be achieved. The method of aquatint produces a textured area of uniform tone. The printing plate is covered by a granulated acid-resistant resin so that the acid eats into it between the grains. The area eaten by the acid is then inked to produce the tone. For colour aquatints, more than one plate might be needed. Aquatint might be combined with etching to produce lines. During the war, when varnish was unobtainable, Prassinos experimented with the aquatint technique by covering the printing plate with salad oil sprinkled with sulphur, which he stood in the sun. He called this sulphur-aquatint.

Poet and scholar Walter Strachan (1903-1994) 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

Aquatint and etching showing an owl in a tree. The owl is white with grey and black speckles and black eye rims. The bark of the tree is drawn in broad black lines. The background is white. This is an artist's proof of an illustration to Le Bestiarie ou le Cortège d'Orphée by Guillaume d'Apollinaire, published by Editions d'Auteuil, Paris, 1965.

Place of Origin

Paris (published)


1949 (published)
1949 (inscribed)


Prassinos, Mario, born 1916 - died 1985 (artist)
Editions d'Auteuil (publishers)

Materials and Techniques

Aquatint and etching on paper

Marks and inscriptions

Artist signature inscribed in pencil lower right.

'Epr. d'artiste / Pour mon ami W J. Strachan'
Inscribed in pencil, lower left.

'Six etudes pour Le Bestiaire d'Apollinaire - chez l'artiste. 1949 (ef)'
Inscribed in a different hand on the back.


Height: 26.5 cm plate size, Width: 21.6 cm plate size, Height: 32.2 cm sheet size, Width: 25 cm sheet size

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

Aquatint and etching, artist's proof of a book illustration, Le Bestiarie ou le Cortège d'Orphée author Guillaume d'Apollinaire, owl, by Mario Prassinos, 1949.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Apollinaire, Guillaume. Le Bestiaire ou le Cortège d'Orphée. Paris: Editions d'Auteuil, 1965.
Strachan, Walter J. Only connect ... poets, painters, sculptors: friendships and shared passions 1924-1994. Jon Carpenter Publishing, 2004.
Strachan, Walter J. Graphic owls from France: variations on a theme in an English private collection. Connoisseur. Aug. 1972. pp.240-247.

Production Note

Reason For Production: Private




Etching (printing process); Aquatint

Subjects depicted



Illustration; Images Online; Prints

Production Type



Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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