Butler’s ‘Girl’ Comes Home

One of the earliest and most prominently sited acquisitions made by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art has returned to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), after an absence of over 30 years. Reg Butler’s cast bronze sculpture Girl (1957–8) was a memorable feature of the pond outside Inverleith House – the Gallery of Modern Art’s founding home from 1960 to 1984.  Purchased in 1962, the sculpture has now been returned to its original location adjoining Inverleith House and the surrounding Garden.

The life-sized sculpture depicts the figure of a girl, arms raised behind her back and standing elevated upon a cage-like framework, which accentuates its solitary nature. It joins three other sculptures - by Dame Barbara Hepworth and Ian Hamilton Finlay -  from the Gallery of Modern Art’s collection on display at Inverleith under a long-term loan agreement between the Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland and  RBGE.

Hosting an unveiling reception to mark the return of work, RBGE Regius Keeper Simon Milne MBE declared: “Girl has come home to the Botanic Garden where she will be admired by 800,000 visitors every year.  I am very grateful to the National Galleries of Scotland for letting us have the privilege of displaying this magnificent sculpture.”

Voicing his approval of the move, Sir John Leighton, Director General of the National Galleries of Scotland commented:  “We are delighted to see Butler’s Girl back in the beautiful, sylvan setting of the gardens, where it joins two wonderful Barbara Hepworth sculptures and Ian Hamilton Finlay’s bronze sundial Umbra Solis non Aeris.  Inverleith House was our first home, and the Butler sculpture was an early purchase, so it’s very fitting to see her return.”

Reginald Cotterell Butler (1913-1981) was considered one of the most promising British sculptors of the 1950s (together with Kenneth Armitage and Lynn Chadwick). Participating in the 1952 and 1954 Venice Biennales he won an international competition in 1953 with his design for a ‘Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner’ against 2,000 entries by artists including Barbara Hepworth, Alexander Calder, Naum Gabo and Eduardo Paolozzi. Butler trained as an architect and worked as a blacksmith from 1941 until the end of World War II and his early openwork sculptures in wrought iron reflected this experience. 

Explaining what it meant to see the sculpture’s return to the Garden, Inverleith House curator Paul Nesbitt added: ”I remember the sculpture well as I often visited the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art at Inverleith House in the late ‘70s whilst at Edinburgh University. Created by Butler at the height of his career, it celebrates the continued use of Inverleith House and the surrounding Garden as the most ideal of places for the presentation and appreciation of modern and contemporary art”.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)