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  • Place of origin:

    France (published)

  • Date:

    1948 (published)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Chastel, Roger, born 1897 - died 1981 (artist)
    Maeght (publisher)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Etching and aquatint on Auvergne paper

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Walter Strachan

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

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

This proof of an owl illustrates a poem by Paul Eluard (1895-1952) called ‘L’alouette et le hibou’ (The star and the owl) in the artist book Le Bestiaire de Paul Eluard. The illustrations by painter Roger Chastel (1897-1981), were planned as double-page spreads, with the aquatint and etched initials at the start of every poem complementing the opposite page illustration, making the two pages unified. The initial had to match the tone and colour of the opposite page illustration exactly.

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. In Chastel’s case, he used the same plate for each colour but the whole work needed 10,000 separate inkings, amounting to months of work for 196 copies of the book (each artist book is produced by the artist, not reproduced). To produce lines, aquatint might be combined with etching.

This image was the first acquired for the collection of images of owls amassed by poet and scholar Walter Strachan (1903-1994). 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…”Strachan owned a copy of the Bestaire of which this is a proof.

Physical description

This black and white etching and aquatint on Auvergne paper is a prrof of an illustration for Le Bestiaire by Paul Eluard, published by Aime Maeght in 1948. It shows an owl in moonlight and a moonlight reflection. The owl is in outline with some speckles and appears translucent black against a greyed background sky.

Place of Origin

France (published)


1948 (published)


Chastel, Roger, born 1897 - died 1981 (artist)
Maeght (publisher)

Materials and Techniques

Etching and aquatint on Auvergne paper

Marks and inscriptions

Pour Mr W.J. Strachan / Chastel
Inscribed in pencil, lower left.

Tiré du "Bestiaire" d'Eluard / Epreuve d'Artiste.
Inscribed in pencil, lower right.


Height: 33.5 cm plate, Width: 26.4 cm plate, Height: 38.7 cm sheet, Width: 31.2 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. This was the first owl in the collection.

Descriptive line

Etching and aquatint, proof of an illustration for Le Bestiaire by Paul Eluard, owl, by Roger Chastel, ca. 1948.

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

Eluard, Paul. Le Bestiaire de Paul Eluard. Aime Maeght, 1948.
Strachan, Walter J. Graphic owls from France: variations on a theme in an English private collection. Connoisseur. Aug. 1972. pp.240-247.
Strachan, Walter J. Only connect ... poets, painters, sculptors: friendships and shared passions 1924-1994. Jon Carpenter Publishing, 2004.
Strachan, Walter J. The genesis and growth of the collection. In The artist and the book in France: the 20th century livre d'artiste. London: Paul Owen, 1969. 368 p., ill. pp. 9-23.
Strachan, Walter J. The artist and the book in France: the 20th century livre d'artiste. London: Paul Owen, 1969. 368 p., ill.

Production Note

Reason For Production: Private




Etching; Aquatint

Subjects depicted

Owl; Moon; Reflection


Illustration; Images Online; Prints

Production Type

Artist's proof


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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