Butler began to sculpt in 1944, without having had any formal training, and held his first one-man show at the Hanover Gallery, London, in 1949. While working at the University of Leeds he had time to mature as a sculptor, turning to modelling in clay, plaster or wax instead of welding, and casting in a thin-shell bronze technique of his own.
By the mid 1950s he was considered one of the most promising British sculptors. In 1953 he won first prize in an international competition for a monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner, which culminated in a working model (h. 2.24 m, 1955–6; London, Tate). It was never realised at its full envisaged height of 18 m. In the late 1950s Butler returned to a more directly figurative style, concentrating on bronze female figures sometimes encased in a framework of metal bars that contrasted with the softness and vulnerability of the figures.
During the 1960s Butler's production decreased dramatically to around three or four sculptures a year and his style underwent a radical change. Taking young women as his main subject, he often subjected them to extreme contortions, distorting their anatomy to stress their sensuousness. These late sculptures frequently took years to complete.
P. Heron: The Changing Forms of Art (London, 1955), pp. 43–4, 226–32
B. Robertson, J. Russell and Lord Snowdon: Private View (London, 1965), pp. 82–5
W. Schwartz: The Hand and Eye of the Sculptor (London, 1969), pp. 2–27
Reg Butler (exh. cat., ed. R. Calvocoressi; London, Tate, 1983) [incl. Butler's William Townsend Memorial Lect., 1980, ‘The Venus of Lespugue and Other Naked Ladies']
KENNETH G. HAY
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