Sculptor specialising in figurative bronzes, who cited Auguste Rodin, Jules Dalou, Edgar Degas, Charles Sargeant Jagger and Giacomo Manzù as sources of inspiration. Married four times, he was survived by one son and five daughters. Although born in south-east London, he grew up in West Malling, Kent, and attended Maidstone School of Art (1948–50), where he studied sculpture with Sydney Birnie Stewart. Following Stewart’s move to St Martin’s School of Art, London, Butler followed, studying there until 1952. While Butler was at St Martin’s, the stone carver Gerald Giudici gave a class on the use of the pointing machine. Butler began an apprenticeship with him and, excluding a break (1953–55) for national service with the Royal Corps of Signals, remained working for him in a professional capacity until 1960. One of the many jobs he was allocated during this time was the carving of James Woodford’s Queen’s Beasts (1958), which still stand before the Palm House, Kew Gardens. While working with Giudici, Butler attended evening classes under Bernard Sindall at the City and Guilds of London Art School. In 1956, he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, returning to the City and Guilds in 1960 to teach drawing and sculpture. He exhibited the Royal Academy of Arts from 1958 and in 1964 was elected an Associate Royal Academician. His election to RA in 1972 was followed by his first important public commission, a portrait statue of President Jomo Kenyatta for Nairobi. He subsequently gave up teaching to work full-time as a professional sculptor. Commissions and official recognition followed. In 1980, he elected a member of Royal West of England Academy and in 1981, a fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors. His May Cippico Fountain, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, 1982, was awarded the society’s Otto Beit medal and his statue of Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis, Wellington Barracks, London, 1985, the society’s silver medal. In 2001, Butler received his first commission from the Royal Mint, to design a new Royal Seal of the Realm (based on sittings by the Queen); in 2004, he designed a fifty-pence piece to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the runner Roger Bannister’s breaking of the four-minute mile. He was elected Senior RA in 2006, appointed MBE in 2009 and a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France) in 2020. His public commissions include Richard III, Leicester, 1980; John Wilkes, Fetter Lane, City of London, 1988; The Leicester Seamstress, Leicester, 1990; a The Stratford Jester, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1994; the footballer Billy Wright, 1996, and the manager Stan Cullis, 2003, for the Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton; and Queen Elizabeth II, for Runnymede, 2015. Butler also produced war memorials: to the Green Howards, Crépon (near site of Normandy landings), 1996; the Fleet Air Arm (figure of Daedalus), Embankment Gardens, London, 2000; the Rainbow Division (167th Alabama Infantry Regiment) – one cast unveiled on the site of Croix Rouge Farm, Fère-en-Tardenois, Hauts-de-France, 2011, the second in Montgomery, Alabama, 2017; and, also at Montgomery, Return from the Argonne, the unveiling of which Butler attended, on 11 November 2021, a few months before his death.
Bibliography: C. Beetles, ‘James Butler obituary’, The Guardian, 1 April 2022; Chris Beetles Gallery: ‘James Butler, MBE, RA, FRBS, RWA (1931–2022)’; James Butler website; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Leicestershire and Rutland, Liverpool, 2000, pp. 81–83, 130–32, 138–39; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of South London, Liverpool, 2007, pp. 351–52; D.A. Cross, Public Sculpture of Lancashire and Cumbria, Liverpool, 2017, pp. 17–18; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Edinburgh (2 vols), Liverpool, 2018, vol. 1, p. 23; G.T. Noszlopy, Public Sculpture of Birmingham, Liverpool, 1998, p. 99; G.T. Noszlopy, Public Sculpture of Warwickshire, Coventry & Solihull, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 59–60, 134; G.T. Noszlopy and F. Waterhouse, Public Sculpture of Staffordshire and the Black Country, Liverpool, 2005, pp. 42–43, 56, 208–10; Royal Academy of Arts: ‘James Butler (1931–2022)’; Royal Mint Museum: ‘James Butler’; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 84–86, 106–08; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster. Volume 1, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 189, 371–72, 409–10; Who Was Who.
Terry Cavanagh October 2023