FIGURE IN SPACE
signed with monogram, numbered 5/8 and stamped with foundry stamp (on the Artist's bronze base)
height (including Artist's bronze base): 91.5cm., 36in.
Conceived and cast in 1957, the present work is number 5 from the edition of 8.
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Overall the condition of the bronze is very good with minor dirt and wear to the surface consistent with age. The bronze has a dark patination with warm brown hues in areas including at the figure's proper left arm. The top section of the rod furthest from the figure is unpatinated. There are original mould marks to the figure's body, which is consistent with the casting process. There are some minor abrasions to the edges of the base and one or two minor dirt marks. There is some light surface dirt to creviced areas and a few instances of very minor rounding. There is some movement in the figure which is original to the structural composition of the group. This excepting, the work appears in very good overall condition.
The work has an integral Artist's bronze base.
Please telephone the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present work.
The lot is sold in the condition it is in at the time of sale. The condition report is provided to assist you with assessing the condition of the lot and is for guidance only. Any reference to condition in the condition report for the lot does not amount to a full description of condition. The images of the lot form part of the condition report for the lot provided by Sotheby's. Certain images of the lot provided online may not accurately reflect the actual condition of the lot. In particular, the online images may represent colours and shades which are different to the lot's actual colour and shades. The condition report for the lot may make reference to particular imperfections of the lot but you should note that the lot may have other faults not expressly referred to in the condition report for the lot or shown in the online images of the lot. The condition report may not refer to all faults, restoration, alteration or adaptation because Sotheby's is not a professional conservator or restorer but rather the condition report is a statement of opinion genuinely held by Sotheby's. For that reason, Sotheby's condition report is not an alternative to taking your own professional advice regarding the condition of the lot.
Jerome L. Greene
The Jewish Museum, London
Sotheby's, London, 21 June 2000, lot 59
Sotheby's, London, 13 July 2007, lot 365
Robert Melville, ‘In connection with the sculpture of Reg Butler’, Motif, 6, 1961, pp.27-39
Margaret Garlake, New Art New World: British Art in Post War Society, Yale, 1998, p.198, illustrated pl.89 (another cast)
Martin Harrison, Transition: The London Art Scene in the Fifties, London, 2002, illustrated p.71 (another cast)
Margaret Garlake, The Sculpture of Reg Butler, London, 2006, cat. no.180, fig.84, p.150, illustrated p.93 (another cast)
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, 30 April - 14 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, 8 - 29 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, 16 November 1983 - 15 January 1984, cat. no.57, illustrated (another cast)
London, Gimpel Fils, Musée Imaginaire: Bronzes Middle and Late Period, 10 September - 11 October 1986, cat. no.11, illustrated (another cast)
London, Daniel Katz Gallery, The Shape Of Things: Three Decades Of British Modernist Sculpture, 5 November – 12 December 2014, cat. no.16, illustrated pp.80-83 (this cast)
The 1950s were an incredibly successful period for Butler. The decade began with the Tate’s purchase of Woman from his Hanover Gallery show. In 1952, his work was included in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and the decade ended with a 1959 show at the Pierre Matisse Gallery described as ‘one of the most astonishing exhibitions in its illustrious history’. (Jonathan Clarke Fine Art, Reg Butler: The Painted Bronzes, 2014, n.p)
One of the works on display at this seminal show was Figure in Space, a sculpture which encapsulates themes and concerns central to Butler’s oeuvre. This work builds on the themes of sadism and eroticism that began to emerge in his earlier St Catherine group, as Butler moved away from the influence of the Modernism of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. He instead created his own visual language that reflected the trauma of the post-war years, projecting this distress and anguish onto female forms, and combining them with fetishistic and erotic elements, evoking the work of artists such as Hans Bellmer.
He wrote in a later essay that ‘the two most powerful emotional elements in us are related to sex and violence, or to put it another way, life and death’ (Gimpel Fils, 1986, n.p.) – tensions that are encapsulated in Figure in Space. Butler suspends a mutilated female form from one of the grid-like structures that dominate his work from the period. The sharp angles of these linear forms create a sense of the brutality and distraction he describes, which are masterfully contrasted with the vulnerability and sensuality that the soft curves of female torso evoke. Butler believed that ‘The human image has to be about LOVE and SORROW’ (Gimpel Fils, 1986, n.p.), and we see this struggle through Figure in Space, as Butler tests the limits of the human body, seeing how far he can distort it whilst retaining its humanity.
Figure 1. Reg Butler’s Figure in Space exhibited at the Daniel Katz Gallery.
Figure 2. Figure in Space installed on Reg Butler’s gate post. Photographer Unknown, Image Courtesy of the Estate of Reg Butler / Margaret Garlake.