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. The present ceramic sculpture features a small, playful owl perched at the top of the vase (fig. 1), which Picasso has partially engraved into the clay.