Catalogue entry

T02332 WORKING MODEL FOR ‘THE UNKNOWN POLITICAL PRISONER’ 1955–6


Not inscribed

Forged and welded steel, painted black, bronze with plaster base 88 1/8 × 34 5/8 × 33 5/8 (223.8 × 88 × 85.4)
Presented by Cortina Butler and Creon Butler 1979
Prov: The artist's children

Exh: 50 Ans d'Art Moderne, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, April–July 1958 (43, maquette repr. p.215); Reg Butler: A Retrospective Exhibition, J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky, October–December 1963 (45, repr.)
Lit: International Sculpture Competition: The Unknown Political Prisoner, New Burlington Galleries, January 1953, n.p. (British Preliminary Exhibition); Tate Gallery, March–April 1953, n.p. (original prize-winning maquette repr.); Jorge Romero Brest, ‘Le Monument au Prisonnier Politique Inconnu’, Art Aujourd'hui no.5, July 1953 pp.6–11 (prize-winning maquette repr.); Alfred H. Barr Jr. (ed.), Masters of Modern Art, New York, 1954, p.159 (maquette repr.); Patrick Heron, The Changing Forms of Art, 1955, pp.227–9; Hans Egon Holthusen, Gutachten der Akademie der Künste zum Entwurf eines Denkmals des unbekannten politischen Gefangenen, Berlin, 1956, n.p. (maquette repr.); Reg Butler, ‘Zum Entwurf für das Denkmal des unbekannten politischen Gefangenen’, Das Kunstwerk, Heft 2/XI, August 1957, pp.34–5 (maquette repr.); Peter Selz, New Images of Man, New York, 1959, pp.41–4 (maquette repr. p.42); ‘Did you Hear That? The Artist Speaks’ (transcript of BBC T.V. film), The Listener, 11 August 1960, pp.213–14 (detail of maquette repr.); ‘Reg Butler on his life and work. An interview with Francis Watson’ (transcript of BBC radio programme ‘People Today’), The Listener, 28 March 1963, p.551; A.M. Hammacher, Modern English Sculpture, 1967, pp.32–4 (maquette repr. pl.108); Robert Goldwater, What is Modern Sculpture? New York, 1969, p.127 (maquette repr. p.124)
Repr: Robert Melville, ‘In connection with the sculpture of Reg Butler’, Motif 6, Spring 1961, p.31, pl.12 (detail), 13 (photomontage showing sculpture on proposed site in Berlin); Tate Gallery 1978–80, p.45

This work was made between 1955 and 1956 at the artist's home at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. It represents Butler's vision of a monument to The Unknown Political Prisoner in its largest and most fully developed form.

The International Sculpture Competition, The Unknown Political Prisoner, was announced in January 1952 by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. The moving spirit behind the project was Anthony Kloman, a former US cultural attache in Stockholm who for a brief period became the Institute's Organising Director. Kloman had come to London the previous year with the backing of a number of important but unnamed Americans, one or more of whom put up the £11,500 prize money. The ICA agreed to promote the scheme but the organisational work was carried out by Kloman and his own staff based in a separate office inside the ICA building in Dover Street. At that time Roland Penrose was Vice-Chairman of the ICA and Sir Herbert Read was President. Its Honorary Treasurer was the printer and publisher E.C. Gregory who in 1950 had established the Gregory Fellowships at Leeds University. (Butler was a Gregory Fellow in Sculpture when the competition was announced.)

The chosen theme was intended ‘to pay tribute to those individuals who, in many countries and in diverse political situations, had dared to offer their liberty and their lives for the cause of human freedom’. The competition was open to artists of every nationality and it was hoped that ‘the sculpture eventually winning the Grand Prize would be installed on some site of international importance, such as a prominent situation in one of the great capitals of the world.’ By 1 June 1952, the closing date for applications, some 3,500 entries from fifty-seven countries had been received, the largest number (607) from West Germany. Maquettes were delivered to designated local centres by 30 November 1952. Of the major world nations, only the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites regarded the enterprise with suspicion and declined to participate: the sensitive theme and the site eventually proposed for the winning entry, on the border of West and East Berlin, was almost certainly considered by Russia (rightly or wrongly) to be provocative and in furtherance of the Cold War.

Owing to the impracticability of having all the maquettes brought to London, Kloman, assisted by Sir John Rothenstein and H. D. Molesworth, arranged for preliminary contests to take place in the more important of the competing countries in the winter of 1952–3. From these exhibitions national juries selected work to go forward to London for the main competition. Apart from Butler, the twelve winners at the British exhibition, held at the New Burlington Galleries in January 1953, included Chadwick, Frink, Hepworth, McWilliam and Paolozzi. Each winner received a £25 prize, donated by the Arts Council. The International Exhibition of 140 finalists opened to the public at the Tate Gallery on 14 March, the ten-man jury (which included Alfred Barr Jr., Will Grohmann and Herbert Read) having reached its decision shortly before. The Grand Prize of £4,500 was awarded to Butler for his maquette, prizes of £750 were won by Mirko Basaldella, Gabo, Hepworth and Pevsner, and smaller sums were awarded to Adam, Bill, Calder, Chadwick, Hinder, Lippold and Minguzzi. After the exhibition, the Tate Gallery acquired maquettes by Gilioli, Minguzzi, Pevsner, Roszak, McWilliam and Consagra; the maquette by Gabo (T02187), together with its earlier version (T02186), was presented by the artist himself in 1977.

At the time of the competition, it was emphasised by the organisers that the winning maquettes were not finished sculptures but sketches for large-scale works in model form (the maximum height allowed was 18 inches). Final execution of the winning monument on a site ‘of world prominence’ would be paid for out of competition funds. Much of the confusion surrounding Butler's prize-winning entry resulted from an inability amongst members of the public, not helped by unimaginative display and greatly encouraged by the popular press, to envisage his work as a monument 300–400 feet high. The three figures, or ‘watchers’, less than an inch tall in the maquette, were not, as was sometimes believed at the time, included merely to indicate scale but were an integral part of the work's formal and emotional impact and would have been considerably greater than life-size in the final monument.

On 15 March, the day after the opening of the exhibition, Butler's prize-winning maquette was severely damaged by a twenty-eight year old Hungarian refugee, Laslo Szilvassy, who was arrested and charged the following day with malicious damage, a charge he admitted. According to a report in The Times (24 March 1953), Szilvassy handed a written statement to a Gallery attendant explaining his reasons for breaking the model: ‘“Those unknown political prisoners have been and still are human beings. To reduce them - the memory of the dead and the suffering of the living - into scrap metal is just as much a crime as it was to reduce them into ashes or scrap. It is an absolute lack of humanism”’. Szilvassy was at pains to point out that his protest was a considered aesthetic response, not a spontaneous, sentimental reaction, and in this sense he was echoing the ill-informed criticisms of the popular press and even of some of the serious art critics: that many of the works on show were too ‘abstract’ (and therefore ‘inhuman’), and private in their symbolism.

Butler made two replicas of the maquette from drawings and measurements of the damaged original taken at Vine Street Police Station. By 2 April the first replica was ready to go on display at the Tate Gallery. In terms of material and technique - brass wire, bent and soldered, with three small bronze figures - it differed little from the original, although the base, intended to suggest an outcrop of rock, was on this occasion the piece of gravestone from which the plaster base of the original had been cast. This first replica remains in the artist's possession; the second, also with a plaster base, was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, shortly after the Competition; and the damaged original, later restored by the artist, became the joint property of the ICA and the Academy of Fine Art in Berlin, where discussions continued throughout the 1950s as to a suitable site for the monument. (This maquette was later sold by Anthony Kloman to an American private collector.)

The ‘Working Model’ (T02332) was made in response to the original wish of certain high-ranking Germans to see the monument built in West Berlin. Chief amongst these were Ernst Reuter, Mayor of the city and spokesman for the West Berlin Senate (who died in September 1953), Hans Scharoun, architect and President of the Academy, the art-historian Will Grohmann, who had been on the International Jury, and the Mayor of Wedding (the district finally selected for the site). Using a more sophisticated technique of welding together pieces of steel already forged by his own hand, the artist this time enlarged his model to over four times the size of the previous maquettes. This enabled him not only to include greater detail-for example, in the ladder-like structure which climbs one of the legs of the tower-but also to demonstrate in miniature exactly how the monument should be constructed, in steel sections welded and bolted together. Photographs in the Grohmann Archive in Stuttgart show the artist enlarging the maquette to the present, working-model size. Butler was an architect by training and the technical problems of building the tower to a height of several hundred feet closely concerned him; he sought additional advice from the engineer Ove Arup. In 1957, he took T02332 to Berlin for discussions with Scharoun and others, having been informed that the Berlin Senate had voted in favour of erecting the monument. An appeal for public contributions, signed by Will Grohmann, was launched in the German press in 1959. But owing to a series of objections and difficulties, part practical and part political, the monument was not built when the urge to realise it was keenest; and with the death in 1968 of Grohmann, who had been the scheme's most tireless champion, coupled with the reservations of the Bonn Government, hopes of its materialisation soon faded. Attempts to revive the idea were occasionally made but the artist always insisted that these should come from outside and would not be a result of ‘any propaganda instigated by me.’

About 1958, at the height of Berlin's interest in the project, the artist wrote a five thousand word account of his entry for the competition which traces the genesis of the work to his ideas after the Second World War for a large-scale tower sculpture standing on the English coast overlooking the sea. Since this account has never been published, and since it contains material directly relevant to an understanding, not only of Butler's work as a whole but of how the particular formal relationships of T02332 were arrived at, it seems in order to quote from it at some length.

‘The story of the monument begins for me as long ago as 1946...... ‘As for most people of my age, the immediate post-war years were ones of much introspection. The unbroken English coastline forbidden to holiday crowds for more than six years - apparently as immutable as the sea itself - was populated by the most enigmatical man-made objects to be seen anywhere. The radio and radar towers of Bawdsey [Suffolk] and the rugged inhospitable coastline around St. Merryn and Trevose Head [Cornwall] dominated my thoughts largely because of their setting in bleak and desolate landscape. The influence they may have had on my use of linear forms in sculpture using forged and welded steel between the years 1948–52 is something about which I can only speculate... but looking back on my work during those years I think it certain that the forms of my earliest iron sculptures [e.g. ‘Woman’ 1949, Tate Gallery, 5942] were very much a response to the Bawdsey personages.’

Butler's various projects for ‘an enormous iron monument’ went back to 1948. ‘I am quite sure’, he wrote, 'I did not think of it consciously in relation to political imprisonment, but I did see the towers which were its prototype as supra-human creatures born of the war, towers with little that was benign in their personalities, remote inscrutable custodians of a landscape hostile to man. The first of the projects has always been known, rather obliquely as ‘The Family Group’ [see Reg Butler: A Retrospective Exhibition, op. cit., 2, repr.]. It was made in 1948, and was intended as a model for a sculpture to stand on the rocks of Trevose Head. I visualised it some two or three hundred feet high set against the sky on this lonely and forbidding stretch of coast above the estuary to the River Camel.

‘If the... sculpture is compared with ... the radio towers at Bawdsey few direct similarities are perhaps noticeable, except the existence of a platform at some distance from the base of the construction. A platform also occurs in a second monument, ‘The Box’, made in 1951.’ (ibid., 16, repr., and see below).

One of the three sculptures which formed Butler's commission for the 1951 Festival of Britain, now at Kenwood, can also be regarded as a prototype or close relation of The Unknown Political Prisoner monument, although in appearance it suggests a strange animal or bird rather than a man-made construction. ‘Birdcage’ (Butler's works are often known by such nicknames, given usually by family, friends or critics as a means of identification, but not always strictly accurate) consists of a similar three-legged iron structure supporting a platform or plate, from which rise a trapezoidal frame and a long thin neck or column. In contrast to the simple linear forms of his earlier iron figures, Butler wrote that both the ‘matière’ and the ‘total forms’ of his sculptures now altered as a result of using oxyacetylene and arc-welding techniques, the former becoming ‘more bio-morphic, less mechanical’ and the latter ‘more visual and consequently more complex.’

‘The demands of the technique’, he continued, 'which I used ironically to describe as steel knitting [see, for example, his ‘Reclining Woman’ 1951 at Aberdeen Art Gallery, also commissioned by the L.C.C. for the South Bank Exhibition], became altogether too much of a bore, for in the Autumn of 1951 I began once again in my life to make sculptures based on a closed volume. It was at this time that I made ‘The Box’ - a perverse undertaking since it enclosed two sculptures invisible from outside and seen by no-one other than myself: I remember describing my intention as a way of insisting on my own right to make sculpture now and again purely for myself. The commissions I had carried out during the previous two years had, I know, brought me a lot of publicity which I somehow resented. Anyway, for some reason the sculptures were made and a box was made around them. In the same month as I finished the box, Roland Penrose came to visit me at Hatfield [where Butler was then living] and told me that the Institute of Contemporary Arts was about to launch an international sculpture competition. Roland had planned to stay the night with an American Tony Kloman a few miles away from my home - at Essendon. Talking with Tony on the 'phone and with Roland over supper I learned for the first time that the competition was to be for a monument to those who had died in the concentration camps.

'“The Box” was shown at an ICA exhibition in the spring of the next year, and widely regarded as my entry for the competition. The competition conditions stated that the design should be suitable for erection on a site in a European capital - nothing more. This condition I regarded as an advantage for I have always felt that a good sculpture was capable of creating its own setting provided that it had enough space. Further, since no specific site was given I took it to mean that one would be selected to fit the winning sculpture, and that in consequence my approach to the problem would not be hampered by real or imagined local limitations.

'From the beginning I thought of the monument as being very large. Partly I imagine because of my preoccupation with the coastal monuments, partly because I thought of the project from the start as one which would combine my two major interests, sculpture and architecture; and perhaps most of all because no idea ever occurred to me that the monument would have to be anything other than a very large one! I remember very well at the time I first saw some of the other entries on exhibition, the feeling of surprise when I noticed that hardly anyone had visualised a solution which was monumental in the sense in which I had been thinking of the word. Throughout the many months during which I worked on a number of schemes it never once occurred to me that the solution would be to make a maquette for just another sculpture. All my earlier sketches and models were based on there being a figure or figures situated on a platform, a platform raised on a promontory against the sky or set in the centre of a place de ville. [See Reg Butler: A Retrospective Exhibition, op. cit., 37–42, repr.] These early sketches and subsequent models caused me much worry and although at the time I could not put my dissatisfaction into words, I think I can see now that they were far too literal, too illustrative. Sometimes, on the one hand, a scheme would irritate me because the figure on the platform seemed somehow inappropriate - too much like an engineer in charge of a technical project; on the other I would be worried because the treatment was too appropriate, too literally a model of a man being hanged, guillotined or crucified.

‘By June 1952 I had lived with the idea for six months, and felt that I had arrived precisely nowhere! Since the issue of the competition conditions I had not, of course, worked exclusively on the prisoner scheme; among other things I had made a number of head studies of identical twin boys and had begun to draw and model many projects for heads looking up, and studies for figures looking up - figures whose faces were on the top of their heads. Why, I don't know - one day the idea was just a part of all the other tentative schemes I had around the studio, and the next it had become an obsession. One which in a sense has continued ever since, either in its original form, or in its inversion - the head looking down...’

In a BBC television film on his work transmitted in the summer of 1960 (loc. cit.), the artist spoke of his excitement at having seen test flights of de Haviland delta-winged jet aeroplanes over Hatfield in the early 1950s. ‘... I spent much of my time staring up into the sky watching these planes being put through their paces. It may be significant that not so long after that I found that I was modelling heads looking straight up into the sky ... I think it is reasonable to imagine that one is liable to project into the sculpture feelings that are going on in one's own body.’ An analogy may be drawn with Henry Moore's ‘Three Standing Women’ 1948 in Battersea Park, which is based on the artist's war drawings of figures looking expectantly into the distance.

Butler has, however, consistently warned of the danger of isolating a single motive for a subsequent course of action in his work. 'The whole subject of the monument and the figures looking up has been so discussed, so many theories have been put forward about why I did this or why I did that, that it is impossible for me to know what I might have thought myself, and what I have caught from other people. Of only this can I be certain; at one stage in the early part of the summer of 1952 all the monument schemes consisted of figures standing on scaffold-like platforms, figures impaled on vertical grids or crucified figures, and then overnight the whole direction altered; the tortured figures existed no longer and the towers were empty, while at the foot stood the watchers. The monument and the head-looking-up obsessions had become fused.

'Of the maquettes made during that year [1952–3], only six still exist, three during the period before the fundamental change [all three are in the artist's possession], the maquette submitted to the jury and two copies made later [see above]. The final maquette was, I think, first constructed in July or August, and constantly modified until September or October but of this series of modifications there are no photographic records. Rough studies were made, for a number of later schemes - mostly screens of figures, but of these only sketches now remain.

'... The wide publicity which the competition received was not altogether a good thing, for the exhibits were in a sense working diagrams only, certainly in the case of my project, yet they were frequently regarded as the actual monuments. I have very great sympathy for anyone who felt that a little bronze wire sculpture eighteen inches high was, to put it mildly, a slight way of commemorating the ten million victims of the gas chambers and concentration camps...

'At the time of submitting the maquette I also made a number of studies for the three watchers [three of these drawings are in the Tate, A01061, A01062, A01063] and photographs of these as well as eye level views of the maquette were ultimately on view, but not before a general impression had become established that the monument was in fact 18 inches high!

‘The way a popular misconception can grow is really remarkable, and an extraordinary example of this occurred in connection with “the cliffs of Dover” rumour. During the original press conference a serious and apparently intelligent reporter asked me how big the monument was intended to be. I replied that it had been designed in such a way that its scale could be varied according to the size of the site chosen. For instance, I said, if the monument were to be put in the centre of Berkeley square, it would need to be about 180 to 200 feet high. If, however, the site selected were the cliffs above Dover, then in that setting it would need to be at least 500 feet high. I cannot think that the reporter completely misunderstood me. It is most probable that some sub-editor was out for a scoop or, for news purposes, chose to print the story as if the scheme were in fact destined for Beachey Head. Other papers all over the country copied the report, Churchill was asked his views as Warden of the Cinque Ports and the completely unfounded rumour became popular belief.’ (See, for example, Wyndham Lewis, The Demon of Progress in the Arts, 1954, p.36.)

During the competition Butler provided, for the benefit of the public, a full description of his winning maquette. This written explanation was occasionally referred to or quoted in the press, but insufficiently for Butler's own simple reading of the sculpture's symbolic content and his conception of its ultimate scale and presence to be made clear.

‘The monument’, he wrote, 'is designed to provide interest both as seen from a distance, and close to; and unlike the Cenotaph and other similar monuments to the Unknown Soldier of the 1914–18 war is not a purely abstract architectural solution to the problem.

'It consists of three elements: the natural rock foundation which provides a fundamentally “natural” setting even where the monument may be sited in the centre of a city; the three women in whose minds the unknown prisoner is remembered and who set the whole dramatic context of the monument; and the tower intended as an easily identified symbol which both suggests the tyranny of persecution and the capacity of man to rise beyond it.

'The monument is suitable for erection to a minimum height of 100 ft. When sited in a city square of similar size to that of a typical London Square, its total height would be approximately 120 ft. On a much more open site such as one overlooking a maritime city, a total height of 300 to 400 ft. would be practicable.

'The size of the monument and its simple outline would enable it to be identified from very great distances, and the personal nature of the dramatic scene on the rock surface would avoid that feeling of disappointment so often experienced on reaching similar landmarks first seen from a great way off.

'THE ROCK.

'Ideally, the rock base would be a natural outcrop either used in situ or demounted and reassembled on the selected site. An alternative would be to take casts from a suitable rock and reconstruct the base in concrete from the moulds. In any case its quality would not be that of a work of man but possess those attributes associated with the effects of time and erosion. The public would be admitted to the surface of the rock by means of an internal staircase.

'THE THREE WOMEN: “The Watchers”

'These sculptures - from 8 ft. high and upwards according to the total height of the monument - would be of bronze and as may be seen from the maquette, have been placed so as to establish the dramatic significance of the monument. The two outer figures are in a sense spectators, in some ways beyond the reach of the situation. These are an old woman, self-withdrawn yet watchful and a young girl - hers is the partial comprehension of youth. The third woman stands almost immediately beneath and certainly well within the dramatic focus of the tower, she is totally contained by the tension of the occasion, and in full correspondence with the spirit of the monument. The two outer watchers stand as it were midway between the living spectator and the third woman. All three figures are intended both to establish and resolve the situation, and by their reference to human scale to develop in the spectator a sense of participation. The faces of all three women look upwards and the living spectator would - by their presence - be drawn into the same focus by the power and direction of their gaze.

'THE “TOWER”.

'This being constructed of steel and suitably painted as a protection, would contrast with the stone of the rock and the bronze of the three women. Although a contemporary structure it follows the main traditions of monumentality, e.g., its scale, relationship with living spectators, its non-illustrative form and its overall quality of “lift”.

'Cages, scaffolding, the cross and the guillotine were some of the elements consciously in mind at the time of its evolution. Watch towers, although not consciously thought of, have since been suggested as obvious references. It is hoped that its form is sufficiently ambiguous to allow it to become identified with the Unknown Prisoner idea, a process that would not be possible had its associations been too specific.

'Furthermore a literal untranscribed version of those constructions associated with imprisonment and suffering would not and could not have been justified as a monument since a symbol of suffering alone would be useless, a mere reminder of defeat.

'For the same reason the presence of the prisoner is implied not stated, his sacrifice being comprehended in the minds of the watchers. As with his physical characteristics the nature of his sacrifice must be universally applicable.

'Seen from a distance then, the monument would afford a powerful, easily identifiable symbol. Close to, a visitor standing on the rock surface in the same dramatic world as that of the three ‘watchers’, would be drawn by their gaze into contemplation of the upper vastness of the tower. He would hear even on comparatively windless days the constant vibration of the tensioned structure, while at times the air currents passing through the ramifications of the structure would set the whole tower vibrating like a great Aeolian Harp’.

The preoccupation with empty space in T02332 and other open-work iron sculptures of this period begs mention of the two central influences on Butler's work, both of which he acknowledges: the figurative forged iron sculptures of Picasso and Gonzalez and the surrealist sculptures of Giacometti, who became a close friend of his. T02332 is reminiscent of Giacometti's ‘Palace at 4 a.m.’ (Museum of Modern Art, New York) in a number of ways: the cage-like structure, the inclusion in the framework of a female figure and the sense of expectancy and alienation. Two especially hermetic works by Butler, ‘The Box’ (see above), with its echoes of Duchamp, and ‘Boîte de Fetiches’ of 1960–61 (see Reg Butler: A Retrospective Exhibition, op. cit., 96, repr.) can be regarded as heir to the group of playful but often sinister objects which Giacometti invented between about 1929 and 1932. During the middle and latter part of the 1950s, Butler developed his ideas for tower sculptures in two directions: on the one hand towards vast structures intended to stand in open landscape and, on the other, towards smaller, more compact objects resembling chimneys, like the ‘Boîte de Fetiches’, which would contain rooms, passages and figures (see Paul Waldo Schwartz, The Hand and Eye of the Sculptor, 1969, pp.22–3). In the film ‘Five British Sculptors’, made in 1964 by Warren Forma, Butler said that the tower sculptures were in a sense a logical development of the boxes. And in the 1960 BBC television film (loc. cit.) he spoke of his interest in Science Fiction and confirmed his commitment to surrealism: ‘The whole idea of using art as a means of creating unknown worlds, unknown forms, undiscovered experiences, is the motive power behind the best in surrealism, and something which I continually find exciting ...’

The sculptor told the compiler that, at the time of working on the Unknown Political Prisoner competition, he had no knowledge of Russian Constructivism but feels now that his entry had an affinity with certain ideal architectural projects of the period (e.g. Tatlin's ‘Monument to the Third International’). The artist also mentioned his admiration for the Spanish art nouveau architect Gaudi.

The source of the work in Butler's personal experience and beliefs has not so far been examined but the sculptor devoted a considerable part of his long unpublished account to an analysis of his state of mind as it was affected by the events of the war.

'I am often asked by people sympathetic to the scheme, how I can account for the fact that not having been a political prisoner myself, I nevertheless managed to produce a monument which although not yet in existence is already beginning to symbolise the idea it represents to different people in many parts of the world. The short answer is of course that one does not have to become a woman before one can attempt a sculpture of Aphrodite: or to be crucified before being able to paint a great crucifixion. However, there is enough genuine concern in this sort of question to deserve my attempting an answer: a sculpture is made out of an artist's awareness, not his knowledge. This is to say that his awareness comes not from the literal experience of being a woman, a political prisoner or for that matter a flower; but from involvement in the substance of the society in which he lives. By this I do not mean self-conscious engagement. As a child will contract emotions such as fear or pleasure from the adults which surround it, without the interposition of anything as overt as verbal communication, an artist is wide open to stimuli which reach him from every sort of source. This receptiveness varies from person to person, in range, scope, intensity and in the kind of personal episodes which act as catalysts sensitising the receptive mechanism of the artist. A man who has undergone long and painful experiences in a concentration camp may well have received such an overdose of experience that to survive at all his creative mechanism has had to develop a film of protective insulation...

'I cannot claim any direct contact with the sort of physical and mental horror we associate with concentration camps; all I can claim is, as a pacifist, to have experienced directly the consciousness of being emotionally separated from my country and its convictions.

'Since adolescence I have drawn closer and closer to an absolute pacifist outlook; not on any religious basis, but out of an increasing conviction that through non-agression and that alone can the human race expect to survive the next fifty years. I am convinced that to meet force with force or as a Christian might put it, evil with evil, is to perpetuate the very things the use of force is intended to combat. Those of us in Great Britain with these or similar beliefs during the war, were, if Christians and held to have conscientious objections, directed to agricultural occupations or the driving of ambulances and so on. If unable to convince the examining tribunals of the sincerity of their convictions, or if their opinions were not put forward as an interpretation of Christian dogma, they were imprisoned.

'In my own case, I was neither held to have supported a conscientous objection (all the tribunals which examined me refused to accept my views), nor had I been imprisoned by the end of the war. Why, I suppose I shall never know. I only refer to this personal history because it might be said to have a bearing on my responses to the fundamental social tensions which underlie all political imprisonment. I was neither wounded by the experience to the extent that in self-protection my responses became blunted, nor have I lived a life in which the idea of death or torture for my political ideals was a complete unreality ...

‘The support I had from those with first-hand experience of the concentration camps as well as from British and other European soldiers who suffered imprisonment, completely offset any distress I might have felt at the line taken by the popular English newspapers.’

Between the competition and the decision to erect Butler's winning entry in Berlin, the artist made a number of studies for the ‘Three Watchers’: ‘Much of the sculpture I carried out in the intervening time had a relationship to the idea, but the only work I released from the studio with a direct connection to the monument was a ⅓ full size study for the head of the “Third Watcher”.’ (See Reg Butler: A Retrospective Exhibition, op. cit., 55, repr.)

Concerning the proposed siting of the monument in West Berlin, Butler wrote that 'Opinion in Berlin at that time was more or less evenly divided between a site in the Tiergarten and one at some distance from the city centre: the Humboldt Höhe in the district of Wedding. The argument for the Tiergarten site was that it was undoubtedly in the central city area and therefore the more important site for an international monument. Against this was the fact that the Tiergarten already contained many monuments - monuments associated with very different feelings from those connected with the idea of the unknown political prisoner, and that to erect the scheme at the proper scale would involve the creation of an artificial promontory. This was not in itself at all impossible, but in so doing the character of the Tiergarten and its buildings and monuments would be completely destroyed.

'The advantages of the Humboldt Höhe were not only that it was in formal terms the perfect natural setting, but that its situation in Wedding, near the borderline between the Eastern and Western sectors of the city, was in an area quite unassociated with tourism.

'The Humboldt Höhe site is, at the time these notes are being written, dominated by the remains of two huge reinforced concrete bunkers which were used as flack towers during the war. After much discussion we felt that the Eastern tower might provided the best siting for the scheme and that the demolition of the Western tower would provide material for the construction of the artificial rock outcrop on which the tower is intended to stand. During this time in Berlin photographs were taken of the site from all aspects, and later on, after I had made the large model known as maquette 2 [T02332], I made photomontages which gave a very specific idea of what the monument would look like when completed.

'The engineering problems connected with the large-scale erection of the monument are very exciting. I have always visualised the main structural elements of the tower as being of welded steel - following closely the sectional forms of the original maquette. These sections, fabricated largely from oxygen-cut steel flats arc-welded together would be prefabricated off site, subsequently being welded and bolted in position on the stone-faced concrete base. With the exception of the design of the central spire no unorthodox techniques are likely to be needed, but the varying stresses which will occur at the base of this member will have to be very carefully allowed for. One possibility here will be to design the central spire as a hollow section through the axis of which, a pretensioned high-tensile member would serve to exert positive compressive stresses on the walls of the tube - in opposition to the tensile stresses set up as a result of wind pressure on the spire.

'Apart from this problem, the consideration requiring the most thought would be that of maintenance: the use of anti-corrosive steels while feasible would be extremely costly, and would by no means result in the structure being safe for any appreciable time without some sort of maintenance. For the most corrosion-resistant steels are not absolutely resistant, particularly where their position makes occasional cleaning impracticable.

'Taking all this into account the most satisfactory solution appears to be the use of normal structural steel, with careful provision in the design to make regular repainting practicable. This would involve the use of special scaffolding easily attached to the structure and capable of carrying maintenance workers. The spire would have to be demountable at the point of connection with the main platform, and by means of specially fitted jacks, this would be lowered into a recess in the base, and maintained, cleaned and painted, section by section, while being re-erected.

'At night warning lights would have to be installed to prevent the tower being a danger to aircraft and I have always hoped these could take the form of apparently continuous columns of red strip-lighting, rather than clusters of individual lights. Seen at night across the skyline of East and West Berlin the whole monument would appear as a floodlit stone promontory on which stood three huge bronze figures, and floating above, a single vertical pencil of red light. It has always been my intention that access to the top of the stone outcrop should be provided, for the character of the scheme should be appreciated in two ways: one by seeing the monument from a long way off as a stark figuration against the sky, and the other by being, not simply close to, but from a position in which the observer could become physically involved. To stand in a crowded street and gaze intently at a nearby building draws other people irresistibly into the experience and I have always felt that to stand on the rock and gaze into the tower would be to become another watcher: to become for a moment a living part of the monument.

‘I cannot think of any European capital I would prefer above Berlin, or a site in Berlin I would find more stimulating than the Humboldt Höhe. Here the monument will be seen for miles across the surrounding countryside and would stand, I am certain, the best chance of fulfilling what has always been its purpose; a symbol of a desire to eliminate all the political persecution and racial hatred that has bedevilled man's affairs throughout his history.’

The above entry is based on the following sources: unpublished written material supplied by the artist; the latter's replies in conversation (3 July 1979); press cuttings and a file on the competition kept in the Tate Gallery Library and Archive; and on the unpublished catalogue of the ICA's archives, compiled by John Sharkey. It has been approved by the artist.


Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981