Pablo Picasso, ‘Les Danseurs Au Hibou’, 1959, Onessimo Fine Art

On Arches Paper, Edition of 50
"Printed in dark tan ink on a solid black background, this unusual linocut print presents the scene of a bacchanale taking place at night, as is testified by its nocturnal witness—an owl. Perched on a stick-like branch on the left side of the image, the owl looks down on five figures who combine the human with the animal in a celebration of masculine power. This figure’s goat hooves and the double flute he plays suggests that he is the satyr Marsyas, a figure from Greek mythology said to be an expert player on the double-piped reed instrument known as the aulos, creating music to accompany Dionysian revelries. A fearsome nocturnal predator, the owl historically embodies many contradictory attributes including insightful and perceptive wisdom, vanitas, and death. Here the owl is a frowning witness to the wild antics of the three (apparently male) figures in the center of the image who cavort on goats’ hooves like those of the Marsyas figure to their left. Just as the owl here symbolizes the artist’s ever-watchful gaze, the goat—another significant figure in Picasso’s work—is associated with animal lust, fertility, vitality and ceaseless energy. The bacchanale itself is a theme that Picasso returned to with particular interest after his relocation to the south of France after the end of the Second World War, with his young mistress, the beautiful artist Françoise Gilot (born 1921).

Roland Penrose, Picasso’s lifelong friend and biographer, has written of the importance that the owl had for the artist: ‘Owls and doves, two birds of such different nature, were his lifelong companions. They both had significance for him which bordered on superstition. The owl with its rounded head and piercing stare seems to resemble Picasso himself. During his stay in Antibes during the late 1940s, an injured owl was brought to the artist and, after repairing its damaged foot, he kept it with him and began ‘once more to be fascinated by its strange aloof behavior and to introduce it into his paintings, his lithographs and later his ceramics’. This pet owl was christened Ubu, partly out of assonance with the French word for owl hibou, and partly after the obnoxious hero of Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi. As grumpy as his namesake, this little owl apparently provoked the artist to win his confidence: ‘[Picasso] used to stick his fingers between the bars of the cage and the owl would bite him … Finally the owl would let him scratch his head and gradually he came to perch on his finger instead of biting it.’ Picasso himself was something of a night-owl when it came to making art. Ten years later, at the time he created Danse nocturne avec un hibou, ‘he told how once, while he was painting at night, a large [owl] flew in at the window and after battering itself against the glass, perched on top of the canvas on which he was at work. It had come, he thought, to prey on his pigeons that flew at liberty from the terrace outside the window during the day.’"

Signature: Signed in Pencil

Publisher: Galerie Louise Leiris

About Pablo Picasso

A prolific and tireless innovator of art forms, Pablo Picasso impacted the course of 20th-century art with unparalleled magnitude. Inspired by African and Iberian art and developments in the world around him, Picasso contributed significantly to a number of artistic movements, notably Cubism, Surrealism, Neoclassicism, and Expressionism. Along with Georges Braque, Picasso is best known for pioneering Cubism in an attempt to reconcile three-dimensional space with the two-dimensional picture plane, once asking, “Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind it?” Responding to the Spanish Civil War, he painted his most famous work, Guernica (1937), whose violent images of anguished figures rendered in grisaille made it a definitive work of anti-war art. “Painting is not made to decorate apartments,” he said. “It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy.” Picasso’s sizable oeuvre includes over 20,000 paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, theater sets, and costume designs.

Spanish, 1881-1973, Malaga, Spain, based in Paris and Mougins, France