Obituary: George Butler

GEORGE BUTLER was the oldest living member of the Royal Watercolour Society. Despite still exhibiting - and selling - his work until recently, Butler's artistic roots seemed to be founded in another age entirely.

Three years ago, in 1996, the RWS asked its members for their opinions on the suitability of certain papers for watercolour drawing. In his response, Butler replied that, at school, his art master had told him he had a sketchbook picked off the body of a soldier at the battle of Sebastopol: "The paper was Whatman and he said it was perfect."

Butler was born in Sheffield in 1904, and attended King Edward VII School in Sheffield and subsequently Sheffield College of Art. From there, he went on to the Central School of Art in London. Among his teachers was A.S. Hartrick, a Scottish artist, whose lessons included reminiscences of Gauguin, "a fine figure of a man" whom he had known at Pont-Aven, of Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh, with whom he had worked in the same studio in Paris. Van Gogh, Hartrick recalled as "a rather weedy little man, with pinched features, red hair and beard, and a light blue eye". Also around Hartrick were young artists such as Thomas Hennell, Vincent Lines and Henry Rushbury, whom Butler came to know well.

In 1925 Butler went to work in the art department of the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson. He stayed with the firm until 1960, from 1933 serving as director and head of the art department while at the same time continuing to paint and exhibit watercolours.

Butler's first one-man show was at the Redfern Gallery in 1927; he was later to have them in Paris, Aix-en-Provence and at Chatsworth. He also exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy, the London Group, the New English Art Club, the Royal Society of British Artists and in galleries in England and France. His work can be seen in collections at Chatsworth and Kedleston in Derbyshire, Sheffield, and in various private collections in the United Kingdom and France.

In 1935 Butler became a member of the Arts Club in Dover Street, where he served both before and during the war on the club's House Committee. After a bombing raid in September 1940, he arrived at the club only to find that a bomb had fallen through its drawing room and that its then Chairman of the Picture Committee was busily throwing out pictures damaged or burned the previous day. Butler rescued what pictures he could and took them to J. Walter Thompson's office nearby in Berkeley Square. After the war he had the paintings, which included a Morland and Solomon J. Solomon's portrait of Mrs Patrick Campbell, restored and returned to the club.

In many ways Butler was a quintessentially English gentleman. He was a fairly tall, well-built man with an almost military moustache. Open and genial in manner, and well-spoken, he habitually wore a Harris tweed suit and highly polished shoes or boots. His work on the other hand perhaps belied his appearance. Typically his drawings are of young girls, often ballet dancers, or sensitive and quite delicate evocations of French or English landscapes. Drawing, he once said, is the probity of art.

He made many sketching trips abroad with Henry Rushbury, a considerable architectural draughtsman, and it was Rushbury who persuaded Butler to concentrate on drawing and watercolour on his retirement from Thompson's. As well as delighting in the scenery around Bakewell in Derbyshire where he moved after leaving London, Butler had a very English love of France and he and his wife built a house near Aix-en-Provence. For over 20 years they spent four months of the year in France and George Butler became a member of the Societe des Artistes Independants Aixois.

In the 1950s he made a visit to the factory at Hayle Mill in Kent which produced the RWS papers. Their problem then was that the best watercolour paper was made from the pulp of used cotton and linen rags which local women were employed to sort. The time had arrived, however, when artificial fibres were being found in most fabrics so in their place the factory had started making paper from cotton flowers imported directly from America. Butler purchased sufficient quantity of this new paper for him still to be using it for his watercolours 40 years later. "The paper we use is as important to us day by day as violin strings are to Yehudi Menuhin," he wrote.

In 1956 Butler was elected an associate of the Royal Watercolour Society and a full member in 1957; he served as honorary treasurer to the society for many years. He was also active in the Artists' General Benevolent Institution, becoming its vice-president in 1977.

Simon Fenwick

George Butler, watercolourist: born Sheffield 17 October 1904; married 1933 Kcenia Kotliarevskaya (died 1992; one son, one daughter); died Bakewell, Derbyshire 19 April 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk