The Paintings of Ivor John Powell

The vision of a border Welshman

Butterflies by Ivor Powell

36. Butterflies

cm. Owner's frame

Private Collection

Set on a blue ground, this composition seems to belong to that period in his career when he was having to concentrate on his own situation at home. The still life of three potted plants also has a blue background, and a similar concern for detail seems to locate it in the mid, rather than later, 1970s. The patterning of the central butterfly suggests he had some kind of print to work from, but the other butterflies are more obviously his own invention, with the characteristics of all those with which he was familiar in his own garden, whether butterflies or moths. Even the central butterfly has the antennae of a moth rather than a butterfly. With his intimate knowledge of these beautiful creatures, he could have composed the whole picture without reference to any print or specimen, and he was probably indifferent to the distinction between the two species. These butterflies are not just decorative specimens randomly pinned on a surface, but have a symbolic meaning. The small ones seem to surround the large brown almost as angels do in those madonnas by Cimabue, Duccio, or other early Italians, and Ivor probably had similar meditative intentions in composing this painting. The forms and colours, carefully balanced and located, help to hold our attention and not let it leave them. With concentration, we are able to identify with these beautiful yet ephemeral creatures, suspended in a kind of timeless space. To paint them was at least to give them some kind of durability, and to reflect on the painting helps us to come to terms with our own transience. Perhaps the central butterfly is symbolic of Winifred herself. Deliberately choosing an uncommon brown butterfly - Winifred had dark brown eyes and hair (which never lost its colour) - seems to support this view. Perhaps, along with his flower studies, this was another attempt to create an image of the woman who meant so much to him.

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