Lot 20
  • 20

Reg Butler

50,000 - 80,000 GBP
68,750 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Reg Butler
  • Figure in Space
  • stamped with monogram and numbered 3/8
  • bronze
  • height: 84.5cm.; 33¼in.
  • Conceived in 1957-8, the present work is number 3 from the edition of 8.
Conceived in 1957-8, the present work is number 3 from the edition of 8.


Acquired directly from the Artist by Pierre Matisse


New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Reg Butler: Sculpture and Drawings, 1954 to 1958, February 1959, cat. no.18, illustrated (another cast);
New York, Museum of Modern Art, New Images of Man, September - November 1959, cat. no.24 (another cast);
Birmingham, Cannon Hill Park, Contemporary British Sculpture, 30th April - 14th May 1960, cat. no.5, with Arts Council tour to Cannon Hall, Barnsley, Ashburne Hall, Manchester, Avonbank Gardens, Stratford-on-Avon, Inverleith House, Edinburgh and the Festival of Art and Literature, Cheltenham (another cast);
London, Hanover Gallery, Reg Butler: Sculpture, June - July 1960, cat. no.26, illustrated (another cast);
Paris, Musée Rodin, 2nd International Exhibition of Contemporary Sculpture, 1961, cat. no.82 (another cast);
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.3, with tour to Museum and Art Gallery, Bolton, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Nottingham University, Nottingham, Southampton Art Gallery, Southampton and Arts Council Gallery, Cardiff (another cast);
London, Tate, Reg Butler, 16th November 1983 - 15th January 1984, cat. no.57, illustrated (another cast);
London, Gimpel Fils, Musée Imaginaire: Bronzes Middle and Late Period, 10th September - 11th October 1986, cat. no.11, illustrated (another cast).


Robert Melville, 'In Connection with the Sculpture of Reg Butler', Motif, no.6, 1961, pp.27-39 (another cast);
Margaret Garlake, New Art New World: British Art in Post War Society, Yale, New Haven & London, 1998, p.198, illustrated pl.89 (another cast);
Martin Harrison, Transition: The London Art Scene in the Fifties, Merrell in association with Barbican Art, 2002, illustrated p.71 (another cast);
Margaret Garlake, The Sculpture of Reg Butler, The Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, Ashgate, 2006, cat. no.180, illustrated fig.84 (another cast).

Catalogue Note

Butler was a man with two distinct, yet highly accomplished, careers. As Cottrell Butler he was an architect with a burgeoning practice, while as Reg he was an essentially untrained avant-garde sculptor, having only worked briefly as an assistant in Henry Moore’s studio in 1947 and tried his hand as a blacksmith during the war, whose idiosyncratic style and experimental approach drew the attention of contemporary artists and critics alike. While exhibiting at both the 1952 and 1954 Venice Biennales he made a significant contribution to Herbert Read’s defining concept of post-war art, the so-called 'Geometry of Fear', and was also talent spotted by international gallerists such as Curt Valentin in New York and later Pierre Matisse.

Figure in Space is one of Butler’s finest explorations into the human figure. His architectural background provided him with a sensitive understanding of the relationship between form and space, an understanding which he applied to strong effect through the creation of cage-like structures, such as that visible here, which are very similar to those used by Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon in their work. In this instance the structures surrounding the atrophied human figure provide the sculpture with an extraordinary sense of movement while also referencing the spruing which surround bronzes in the initial stages of the casting process. By drawing our attention to the making process itself Butler draws our attention to the artificiality of the human figure and encourages a detached, Existentialist, standpoint. Butler explained this to Pierre Matisse: 'to me the so-called base…is a very important part of the total sculpture – it isn’t merely a base but I’m sure does things to the meaning of the whole thing' (letter to Pierre Matisse, November 1966, quoted in Pierre Matisse and His Artists (exh. cat)., The Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York, 2002, p.128).

Pierre Matisse was quick to sign Reg Butler into his stable of artists after the Curt Valentin Gallery closed in 1955, although Matisse struggled to develop a close working relationship with Erica Brausen who represented Butler in London. In March 1956 he included Butler in an exhibition alongside prestigious and established names such as Le Corbusier, Giacometti, Marino Marini and Joan Miro (among others), but it was not until February 1959 that he was able to stage a solo exhibition. It was not only Butler’s idiosyncratic approach to form which fascinated Matisse and ensured him a place in his prestigious gallery but also the sensuality of his figures which sat very well alongside those of Balthus and Maillol, who were regular features at the gallery.