James Butler RA RWA FRSS (1931 – 2022)

The Friends were saddened to learn of the recent death of James Butler, an Academician and one of the UK’s leading figurative sculptors.

Here Fiona Robinson, President of the RWA, gives her tribute.

James Butler RA RWA FRSS 1931- 2022. (Image credit: Royal Mint Museum)

James Butler RA RWA who has died at the age of ninety was one of the UK’s foremost figurative sculptors.  He was elected a Royal Academician in 1964 and a Royal West of England Academician in 1980. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Sculptors.

James had a fascinating career. Early on he worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company creating statues for Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and other productions.  His waxworks for Madame Tussauds both in London and Amsterdam included Twiggy and The Beatles and both Rembrandt’s wives Saskia van Uylenburg and Hendrickje Stoffels. A commission to make a portrait statue of President Jomo Kenyatta in 1972 paved the way for him to give up teaching and focus full-time on sculpture.

James final sculpture was, Return From The Argonne, a bronze commissioned by an American, Nimrod Frazer,  who had long-standing interest in setting up sculpture of the First World War in Montgomery, Alabama.

Fraser also commissioned Butler’s powerful WW1 sculpture commemorating the men of The Rainbow Division. Rainbow Soldier, a poignant pieta, shows a soldier of the Rainbow Division carrying a dead soldier in his arms. It was first shown outside the Royal Academy in London in 2011 and it is now located at the site of the Battle of the Croix Rouge Farm in Fère-en-Tardenois, France. A second bronze was installed in Montgomery Alabama, in America. 

James Butler RA RWA ‘Rainbow Soldier.’ 2011

In conversation with James in early 2020 he gave me the back-story to his sculpture Return from the Argonne:

“Rainbow was the name given to the men of the First World War who were conscripted in America…. The Battle of the Argonne was a great victory for the American army and it was a WW1 battle of great strategic importance. The bronze figure of a Dead American Soldier is based on the body of a dead American soldier who has been returned from the battlefield. He is partly covered by canvas sheet which has been torn to show his profile. It will be a companion piece to the Rainbow Division sculpture, in Montgomery Alabama, USA.”

Fiona Robinson PRWA

Image top: James Butler RA RWA – ‘Return From The Argonne’. Work in progress

The Friends of the RWA is an independent charity that supports the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol’s first art gallery. 
For just £35 a year Friends can make unlimited visits to RWA exhibitions and enjoy a host of other benefits, as well as making an important contribution to the arts in Bristol and the South West. Find out more and join up here.

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