Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Le hibou (rouge et blanc)

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Le hibou (rouge et blanc)
signed and dated 'Picasso 22.2.53.' (on the front of the base); signed and dated again 'Picasso 22.2.53.' (on the underside)
earthenware painted by the artist
Height: 13 ¼ in. (33.6 cm.)
Length: 13 ½ in. (34.3 cm.)
Executed on 22 February 1953
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris.
Curt Valentin Gallery, New York.
Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York (acquired from the above, 24 December 1953).
Mary R. Morgan, New York (by descent from the above).
Mary Rockefeller Morgan Charitable Trust (gift from the above).
A. Verdet, "La griffe de Picasso" in XXe siècle, March 1958, p. 14 (another example illustrated in situ).
R. Penrose, The Sculpture of Picasso, New York, 1967, pp. 140-141 (another example illustrated).
D.-H. Kahnweiler, Picasso-Keramik, Hanover, 1970, pls. 32-33, 35-37 and 56 (other examples illustrated).
G. Mili, Picasso’s Third Dimension, New York, 1970, p. 180, no. 133 (another example illustrated in color). W. Spies, Picasso Sculpture with a Complete Catalogue, London, 1972, p. 308, no. 403 (bronze version illustrated, p. 201).
H. Greenfeld, Pablo Picasso: An Introduction, Chicago, 1971, p. 173 (illustrated; with incorrect medium).
G. Ramié, Picasso's Ceramics, Paris, 1974, p. 283, no. 153 (illustrated, p. 68).
F. Ponge, P. Descargues and E. Quinn, Picasso, Paris, 1974, p. 275 (another example illustrated, p. 153).
P. Anbinder, ed., The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection: Masterpieces of Modern Art, New York, 1981, p. 105 (illustrated in color).
D. Bozo and M.-L. Besnard-Bernadac et al., The Picasso Museum: Paintings, Papiers collés, Picture Reliefs, Sculptures, and Ceramics, Paris, 1985 (another example illustrated, p. 216).
P. Daix, Picasso avec Picasso, Paris, 1987, p. 196 (another example illustrated).
B. Ruiz-Picasso, ed., Ceramics by Picasso, Paris, 1999, vol. I, pp. 524-529 (other examples illustrated in color).
W. Spies, Picasso: The Sculptures, Stuggart, 2000, p. 411, no. 403.III (another example illustrated in color, p. 254; other examples illustrated, p. 373).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art and The Art Institute of Chicago, Picasso: 75th Anniversary Exhibition, May-December 1957, p. 100 (illustrated).
New York, Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration, Ceramics by Picasso, March-May 1958, no. 52.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Twentieth-Century Art from the Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller Collection, May-September 1969, p. 33 (illustrated).
Please note that Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.


In autumn 1946, while Picasso was working in the Musée Grimaldi at Antibes, a small owl with an injured claw was discovered in a corner of the museum, where it had fallen from the rafters. Picasso agreed to take in the bird, whom he named Ubu, a play on the French word for owl (hibou) and the obnoxious anti-hero of Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi. Picasso bandaged Ubu’s claw, and it gradually healed. When the artist returned to Paris in November, he brought along the owl to join his menagerie of caged birds.
“We were very nice to him but he only glared at us,” recounted Françoise Gilot, Picasso’s companion at the time. “He smelled awful and ate nothing but mice. Every time the owl snorted at Pablo he would shout, ‘Cochon, merde,’ and a few other obscenities, just to show the owl that he was even worse mannered than he was” (Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, pp. 144-145).
The presence of the owl–at once the attribute of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and craft, and a legendary harbinger of evil and doom–deeply affected Picasso. Between November 1946 and March 1947, he painted his new avian companion at least a dozen times. No doubt, he identified with the bird–his nocturnal habits, perhaps his predatory nature, and especially his preternatural power of sight, which penetrates the night like the painter’s own vision penetrates ordinary experience.
At Vallauris in the early 1950s, although the irascible Ubu seems to have moved on, the owl became a dominant motif in Picasso’s work in three dimensions. He created a half-dozen owls from sheet metal or objets trouvés, and he produced a pair of plaster models, subsequently cast in both bronze and fired clay, that emphasize opposing aspects of the bird’s nature (Spies, nos. 403-404). The present ceramic sculpture is one of the finest and most richly painted of these and shows the creature as cool and composed, surveying his terrain with protruding eyes. In the other, the owl’s mouth gapes open as he swoops in for the kill, raw aggression replacing taut control. Picasso hand-painted the ceramic examples at the Madoura pottery workshop, creating lively decorative patterns in red and black slip that contrast with the bird’s intense demeanor.

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