Large Divided Oval: Butterfly 1985-86 (LH 571b)


length 800cm

The Butterfly is a solid horizontal form, highly abstracted and symmetrical in the sense of a three-dimensional Rohrschacht test. It would be ambitious for any sculptor to try and render the effortless grace and weightless nature of a butterfly in a medium such as bronze unless it was executed in decorative metal lattice work, and Moore’s intention could not be further from such an approach. His ‘butterfly’ is solid and voluminous.

The title is a subtle misnomer, allocated to the piece by the artist applying the most tentative intellectual association to the idea of a central diurnal body section and two rounded ends reminiscent of the wings of an insect about to unfurl. The viewer’s perception of the sculpture as a butterfly is created by means of semantics and form - title and visual presence - put into effect by both Moore’s intellect and absolute understanding of three-dimensionality. By means of this combination, and despite the sculpture’s size, volume and weight, the piece appears lofty, and the viewer’s tentative visual association with a butterfly is gratified. An insect’s chitin body is hinted at in the central part of the sculpture, the overall contained bronze shape indicates the wingspan.

This sculpture does not work on this level only; it triggers a number of other associative responses. The smooth surface and lusciously rounded shape conjure up notions of a chrysalis or a larva; questions about the inner content of an external form pose themselves, ideas about metamorphosis kick in. The strength of the Butterfly lies not only in its formal appearance but equally in the inherent mystery which is contained within the enclosed shell. The combination of associative enigma and physical tension of form contained within form had been a constant preoccupation for Moore since the 1930s; drawings and comments in sketchbooks document this, as does a vast body of both graphic and sculptural works on the theme of helmet heads, internal/external forms and mother and child representations.

Moore’s own words, although not specifically relating to the Butterfly, reflect upon the alliance between tension and enigma . . . My sculpture has a force, is a strength, is a life, a vitality from inside it, so that you have a sense that the form is pressing from inside trying to burst or trying to give off the strength from inside itself, rather than having something which is just shaped from outside and stopped. It’s as though you have something trying to make itself come to a shape from inside itself . . .
I think it should not be obvious exactly what a work of art is on the very first view. If it is obvious then, one tends to look at something, recognise it and then turn away, knowing what it is