Published between 1749 and 1789 this was an encyclopaedic work on the natural history of the earth, including all birds and animals. Despite the content of the book becoming outdated, it remains a classic of French literature.
The idea of creating the prints was originally suggested to the artist, by the French art dealer Ambroise Vollard, in 1931. However, it was not until early 1936 that Picasso started the project. Choosing animals that appealed to him, he created 32 illustrations in total.
After Vollard was killed in a car accident in 1939, the prints were purchased from the family by a dealer, Martin Fabiani. He arranged for a book of the prints, 226 copies in total, to be published in 1942.
The book contained 31 illustrations; the one print omitted was a drawing of a flea. However, this was included in the deluxe editions of the book, the first 31 copies. These editions also include the titles, written in drypoint, which Picasso gave to each plate.
Only 21 prints were accompanied by Buffon’s text. Whether this was decided by Fabiani, or Vollard, before his death, is not known. The criteria used to decide if the text was to be included with an illustration, is also unclear.
The Ostrich was created using the sugar aquatint technique, as were all the illustrations in the series. Using this method the artist can draw on a metal plate, as opposed to traditional etching, where the image is created by drawing with a pointed implement. This medium was favoured by Picasso, due to the tonal variety it produced.
As with many examples in the series, the drawing is minimalistic, yet Picasso manages to portray much humour in such a simple work. The scurrying ostrich has an especially comical facial expression, which is conveyed brilliantly with a few lines.
Despite, or maybe because of, their simplicity, the animals in the Histoire Naturelle series have delighted art lovers for years. They have proved to be among the most popular and enduring of Picasso’s works.
Pablo Picasso was born 25 October 1881 and died 8 April 1973. He was, arguably, one of the most influential, and famous artists of the 20th century. His work remains extremely popular today, with many of his paintings among the most expensive in the world.