Reg Butler 1913 - 1981

Provenance

C T Browring & Company Ltd.

The Nippon Fire & Marine Insurance Company Ltd

Private Collection, Japan

Exhibitions

London, Hanover Gallery, Reg Butler: Sculpture, June–July 1960, cat no.10, another cast
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Reg Butler: Recent Sculpture:1959–1962, 30 October–17 November 1962, cat no.13, another cast
Louisville, Kentucky, J.B. Speed Art Museum, Reg Butler:A Retrospective Exhibition, 22 October–1 December 1963, cat no.88, another cast

Literature

G.S. Whittet, London Commentary, The Studio, vol.160, no.809, pp116–117, p110 illus b/w, another cast
Robert Melville, In Connection with the Sculpture of Reg Butler, Motif, No.6, 1961, Shenvall Press, London, p37, cat no.24 illus b/w another cast
Margaret Garlake, The Sculpture of Reg Butler, The Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, Hertfordshire, 2006, cat no.197, illus b/w, another cast

Description

By 1959, Reg Butler was no longer making figures in welded iron. Instead, he had begun to produce highly expressive, totemic figures, which were modelled in plaster, before being cast in bronze. The move from iron to bronze inevitably brought a concern with mass to the fore. He explored this new quality by making his figures extremely top heavy or suspending them in space by the tiniest rods of iron. Butler’s art reflects a synthesis of art historical references.

Margaret Garlake notes the influence of ‘…Freudian theory, Surrealism and Butler’s recurrent enthusiasm for African and pre-historic art’. 1 He closely followed the careers of his contemporary European artists and parallels can be drawn with the work of Marino Marini with whom he exchanged letters. Yet his work reaches further back to an older, Italian classical art. Many distinguishing features of Butler’s 1950s style– the twisting figure with arms raised and clothes pulled up, emerging directly from the base or block – echo motifs found in, for example, Michelangelo’s ‘unfinished’ slaves for the Tomb of Julius II.
A one time neighbour of Butler, Henry Moore was an early mentor, and both centred their work around the subject of the female figure. Butler’s figures from the 1950s are invariably studies of the body in motion, under some kind of stress, or moving between poses such as here in Study for Girl Tying Her Hair III. Sculptures of contorted bodies, a style described collectively by Herbert Read as the ‘Geometry of Fear’, were prevalent in the period soon after the Second World War.

After this collective trauma, many artists such as Paolozzi, Frink and Meadows, were drawn to images of damaged and distorted human and animal bodies. Here the figure is in classical pose, her proportions only slightly exaggerated to emphasise her torso, head and arms. Bodily tension is manifest on the sculpture’s surface, where delicately incised lines criss-cross the body, marking out the breasts, torso and shoulder blades and defining her gently tapering legs.

1 Margaret Garlake, The Sculpture of Reg Butler, The Henry Moore Foundation in association
with Lund Humphries, Hertfordshire, 2006, p30