Lot 19
  • 19

Reg Butler

30,000 - 50,000 GBP
100,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Reg Butler
  • Musée Imaginaire
  • each stamped with monogram and numbered 6/9
  • bronze in a painted wooden cabinet
  • overall: 77.5 by 123cm.; 30½ by 48½in.
  • Conceived in 1961-2, the present work is number 6 from the edition of 9.
Conceived in 1961-2, the present work is number 6 from the edition of 9.


Acquired directly from the Artist by Pierre Matisse


London, Hanover Gallery, Reg Butler: Sculpture and Drawings, July - September 1963, cat. no.16, (as Series of Small Bronzes, another cast);
Probably Cambridge, Arts Council Gallery, The Gregory Fellows, University of Leeds: Reg Butler, Martin Froy, Kenneth Armitage, Terry Frost, Hubert Dalwood, Alan Davie, Trevor Bell, Austin Wright, 8th - 29th February 1964, cat. no.6, with tour to Museum and Art Gallery, Bolton, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Nottingham University, Nottingham, Southampton Art Gallery, Southampton and Arts Council Gallery, Cardiff (as Three Maquettes, another cast);
Caracas, Galería Freites, Reg Butler: Esculturas en Bronce, 22nd May - 5th June 1983 (ex. cat., another cast);
London, Tate, Reg Butler, 16th November 1983 - 15th January 1984, cat. no.63 (another cast);
London, Gimpel Fils, Reg Butler 1913-1981: Musée Imaginaire: Bronzes Middle & Late Period, 10th September - 11th October 1986 (ex. cat., illustrated, another cast).


The Tate Gallery Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1984-86, Tate Gallery Publications, London, 1988, cat. no.T03703 (another cast);
Margaret Garlake, The Sculpture of Reg Butler, The Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, Ashgate, 2006, cat. no.224, illustrated pl.19 (another cast).

Catalogue Note

Thirty-nine female figures, modelled in wax and plaster before being cast in bronze and arranged in a manner reminiscent of a Renaissance Cabinet of Curiosities, Butler’s Musée Imaginaire is unique within his oeuvre. The first cast from the edition of nine, held in a private American collection, was made with black painted walnut shelves in which the edges were left plain and the bronze figures were dusted with gold powder. In all later editions, such as the present work and those held at Tate, London and the Hirschhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, the shelves are painted white. Although the concept for the vitrine was realised as Butler progressed with the models and the carefully selected arrangement is not intended to provide any narrative, Butler never made the figures available as individual sculptures.

The title of the piece is a direct reference to André Malraux’s 1947 essay of the same title, published in French as Le Musée Imaginaire de la Sculpture Mondiale (1952) and in English as Museum Without Walls (1967). Malraux conceives of a museum which exists within each of our minds, comprising the great works of art we are able to recall from our visual memory. The text includes a vast array of images and Malraux is keen to emphasise the benefits of photography, and memory, in encouraging dialogues between works of art ordinarily displaced by time, distance or medium. Malraux is also quick to recognise that his choice of images for the book is entirely subjective – placing the essay firmly within the context of French Structuralism, as propagated by the likes of Roland Barthes. Butler, who spoke fluent French, first exhibited this series under the title of ‘Series of Small Bronzes’ but soon changed the name in homage to Malraux.

It is not only the title of this work which allows for close comparison to the wider contexts of the 1960s. Butler was, at this time, exhibited alongside the likes of Alberto Giacometti, Germaine Richier, Jean Dubuffet and Francis Bacon. All of these artists sought to reconceive the human form and human qualities in the Modern, post-war, age often very slightly distorting their images of the human figure and placing them within structures such as vitrines. These artists searched far and wide through art history for alternative references from the established canon – these figures bear close comparison to Stone Age Venus figures (Butler kept a cast of the Willendorf Venus) or the African sculptures which were collected by early Modernists such as Jacob Epstein and André Breton. Indeed the Musée Imaginaire bears close comparison to Breton’s studio wall (on view at the Centre Pompidou, Paris) as well as Renaissance Wunderkammern.