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  • Date:

    ca. 1965 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Avati, Mario, born 1921 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Mezzotint on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Walter Strachan

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

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

In this image, Mario Avati (born 1921) exploits the blackness of mezzotint for depicting owls and night-time. Scholar Walter Strachan (1903-1994) described Avati as the greatest living practitioner of mezzotint. Avati produced work in several printing techniques, and was a member of La Jeune Gravure, a group of artists who sought to encourage the development of skills in all techniques of printing. He won the Prix de la Critique for engraving in 1957. He began experimenting with mezzotint in February 1950 in a small format and produced his first major book Chimera, published by Les Impenitents, Paris, in 1955. For this book, which was written by Lewis Carroll on the subject of taking photographs, Avati made witty illustrations which parodied photographic subjects and poses.

Invented in Germany in 1642, mezzotint was most widely used in England in the 18th century for reproducing paintings. As a tone process it is ideal for showing deep tonal ranges from white to black. A rocker is used to cover the copper or steel plate with close furrows crossing in various directions to produce a fine network of lines to hold the ink. The artist scrapes it down to reduce the amount of ink that can be held, working therefore from dark to light and in tone rather than line.

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 mezzotint is of an owl and moon. The owl is in profile and sits on a branch which appears white against the black background. The owl's wings are white with some black accents and a star pattern. Its eyes are round and white. The moon is to the owl's left.


ca. 1965 (made)


Avati, Mario, born 1921 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Mezzotint on paper

Marks and inscriptions

Artist signature inscribed in pencil, lower right.


Height: 4 cm plate, Width: 6.5 cm plate, Height: 10.5 cm sheet, Width: 13 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

Mezzotint, owl, by Mario Avati, ca. 1965.

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.





Subjects depicted

Moon; Owl


Images Online; Prints


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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