Dr. Herbert Kayden and Dr. Gabrielle Reem were in close correspondence with Moore and visited his home and studio in Much Hadham on multiple occasions during the mid- to late-1970s. It was during their second trip that the Kaydens purchased Butterfly. Dr. Reem had been especially keen to acquire one of Moore’s rare works in marble.
When circumambulating this dynamic work, the central element of the butterfly’s body, and the two forms comprising its wings, emerge only to immediately dissipate back into an abstracted mass, echoing the enigmatic nature of the butterfly. Carved in 1977, Butterfly exemplifies Moore’s desire to create sculpture that appears to be evolving. In Moore’s view, “Sculpture should always at first sight have some obscurities, and further meanings. People should want to go on looking and thinking; it should never tell all about itself immediately” (quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., Henry Moore, Sculpture, London, 1981, p. 52). The sculpture’s primary theme of metamorphosis and its subject are thus perfectly aligned. Some have observed the polished surface and overall rounded form to be suggestive of the butterfly’s pre-metamorphic state as a chrysalis. The variations in pigment in the marble recall the beautifully intricate patterning of butterfly wings; the smooth marble surface and elegant lines likewise suggest the grace of its namesake.
The subject of a butterfly emerging as a new form from its cocoon can be viewed as a metaphor for the artist’s creativity. Moore has famously stated: “One of the things I would like to think my sculpture has is a force, is a strength, is a life, a vitality from inside it, so that you have the sense that the form is pressing from inside to burst or trying to give off the strength from inside itself” (quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., ibid., p. 130).
Dr. Kayden described the work as the “most voluptuous female form in the shape of a butterfly that anybody could have.” Remarking upon the sexual overtones of the work, Dr. Kayden comments upon how one section on the central area of the sculpture is suggestive of a vulva, yet another complimentary symbol of genesis. “Gabrielle’s mother was shocked by the eroticism of this piece,” he wrote in his notes about this multifaceted marble that exhibits Moore’s total mastery of conceptualizing and executing complex three-dimensional sculptures by the late 1970s.
(fig. 1) Henry Moore, Large Divided Oval: Butterfly, 1985-1986. Haus der Kulturen der Welt Tiergarten, Berlin.
(fig. 2) Installation view of the Kaydens' apartment. (Barcode: ST6_7088)
(fig. 3) Henry Moore with Divided Oval: Butterfly, Henraux stoneyard, Querceta, 1967.