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

La Chouette

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
La Chouette
bronze with dark brown patina
Height: 14 3/8 in. (36.4 cm.); Length: 14 in. (35.6 cm.)
Conceived in Vallauris, 1951 and cast 1951-1953
Paloma Picasso, Paris (by descent from the artist).
The Pace Gallery, New York (acquired from the above).
Private collection, New York.
Pace Wildenstein, New York (acquired from the above).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, February 2010.
W. Spies, Picasso: das plastiche Werk, Stuttgart, 1983, p. 390, no. 403 II (another cast illustrated, p. 229 and 352).
W. Spies and C. Piot, Picasso: The Sculptures, Stuttgart, 2000, p. 411, no. 403 II (another cast illustrated, p. 373).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: The Fifties I, 1950-1955, San Francisco, 2000, p. 61, no. 51-067 (another cast illustrated).
Paris, Petit Palais, Hommage à Pablo Picasso, November 1966-February 1967, no. 296.
New York, The Pace Gallery, The Sculpture of Picasso, September-October 1982, no. 21.
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Sale room notice
Please note this work was conceived in 1951 and cast in 1951-1953.

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Lot Essay

In the fall of 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, ever the animal lover, agreed to take in the wounded bird, whom he christened Ubu, partly out of assonance with the French word for owl (hibou) and partly after the obnoxious anti-hero of Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi. Picasso bandaged Ubu's claw, and it gradually healed. When the artist left Antibes to return to Paris in November, he brought along the owl to join his extensive menagerie of caged birds. Françoise Gilot, Picasso's companion at the time, later recalled, "We put him in the kitchen with the canaries, the pigeons, and the turtledoves. We were very nice to him but he only glared at us. Any time we went into the kitchen, the canaries chirped, the pigeons cooed, and the turtledoves laughed but the owl remained stolidly silent or, at best, snorted. Every time the owl snorted at Pablo he would shout, 'Cohon, 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).

Manners aside, the presence of the owl--at once the attribute of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom, and a legendary harbinger of evil and doom--seems to have deeply affected Picasso. Between November 1946 and March 1947, he painted no fewer than a dozen canvases depicting the grave and compact Ubu, who is most often shown perched on the back of a wooden chair. "The owl introduced something almost extraterrestrial and mythic into his still-lifes," Jean Sutherland Boggs has written (Picasso and Things, exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art, 1992, p. 297). No doubt, Picasso 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. Roland Penrose has written, "The owl with its rounded head and piercing stare seems to resemble Picasso himself. As a joke once he took an enlargement of a photo of his eyes and placed over it a white sheet of paper on which he drew the face of an owl, cutting out holes to fit his eyes like a mask. Nothing unnatural seemed to have taken place except that the bird now possessed the vision of a man whose eyes could not only see but also understand" (Picasso, His Life and Work, Berkeley, 1981, p. 361).

After 1947, the owl re-appears only intermittently in Picasso's paintings and drawings; in his work in three dimensions, by contrast, it becomes a dominant motif. Working at the sculpture studio that he had established in a former perfume factory (Le Fournas) at Vallauris and at the Madoura pottery workshop in the same town, Picasso produced owls from sheet metal (Spies, nos. 400-402, 573-575), from plaster embedded with objets trouvés (Spies, nos. 475-477), and from fired clay decorated with red and black slip (Ramié, nos. 81, 109-113, 151-161, 453). Between 1951 and 1953, he also produced a pair of plaster sculptures, both subsequently cast in bronze, that masterfully contrast different aspects of the owl's nature. The present figure is one of these and shows the bird as cool and composed, surveying his terrain with protruding eyes, his ornately incised wings by his side. In the second example, the owl's mouth gapes open and his wings are outstretched as he swoops in for the kill, raw aggression replacing taut control (Spies, no. 404). Elizabeth Cowling has concluded, "Making sculpture and ceramics was not, as is sometimes implied, a 'diversion' for Picasso from the more 'serious' business of painting. His vision of the world quite as much as his restless powers of invention found full expression in both activities" (Picasso: The Mediterranean Years, 1945-1962, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, London, 2010, p. 315).

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