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  • Date:

    1963 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Bertini, Gianni (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Black wash on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Walter Strachan

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

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

An Italian artist active in Paris from 1951, Gianni Bertini (1922-) was part of Art Informel, an art movement which emphasised spontaneity and freedom of form. The term Art Informel was first used by writer Michel Tapie (1909-1987) in 1952 in his work Un Art Autre. This image, inscribed with the line “ca n’est pas un hibou” (“that is not an owl”) is full of spontaneity and movement. Bertini has used a razor blade to scratch out two eyes.

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

This is a very abstract image in black wash on white paper, just suggestive of an owl in flight. It is inscribed 'Ca n'est pas un hibou' (That is not an owl).


1963 (made)


Bertini, Gianni (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Black wash on paper

Marks and inscriptions

Bertini 63
Signed and dated in ink, lower right.

à Monsieur / W. J. /StRachan / ca n'est / pas un / hibou
Inscribed in wash, left.


Height: 23.6 cm image, Width: 21.3 cm image, Height: 23.6 cm sheet, Width: 22 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

Drawing in black wash, owl, by Gianni Bertini, 1963.

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

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


Wash; Paper



Subjects depicted



Drawings; Images Online

Production Type



Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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