Antiques and Art Around Florida — 2013-2014
Change Language:
Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh & Robert Butler
Jim Fitch

When Robert Butler began his career as a Florida landscape and wildlife artist he lived in Okeechobee. The people who bought his paintings had a vested interest in Florida. Many were ranchers, citrus growers or those with long and strong family ties to the state. They preferred nature scenes and natural color schemes.Robert built his career on those type paintings.

A move to Lakeland in 1980 changed the way he interpreted the landscape. The lighting and topography were different than what he had grown up with in Okeechobee and the differences began to be reflected in his paintings. His use of color had to change in order to better interpret this new environment.

A trip to Africa in 1994 had a much greater effect on his work.

In a magazine article written one year after his Africa trip he stated, “My palette has changed forever as a result of this experience.” The word on the street was that Robert Butler had slipped his moorings and was drifting out to sea on an ocean of red, blue and yellow. I have to confess, I thought so too until one of the “new” paintings caught my attention and changed my perspective altogether. The artist wasn’t drifting, he was embarking on a new journey, just as his peers of the past had done.I know that changes in an artist’s style, the ways in which they interpreted their world, were not uncommon but simply the result of an intense desire to be true to their calling as interpreters. None of these changes, when filtered through the lens of history, ever significantly affected the future Value of work by those artists who gained “Old Master” status.

Consider Picasso.

He had a Blue Period, a Rose Period and even an African Period. During those times of artistic growth and innovation Picasso challenged himself creatively and adopted different styles and methods to portray his world.

Consider Renoir.

In a pictorial biography about Renoir the author Nancy Nunhead states that “Certainly, compared with his other early landscapes, Renoir’s paintings... are revolutionary in his use of color, handling of paint and spontaneity of composition.”

Consider van Gogh.

In a letter to his brother Theo, van Gogh wrote, “What I learned in Paris is leaving me... Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily so as to express myself forcibly.”

My transition from skeptic to believer began when Robert called me and asked if I would stretch some new canvasses he had just finished and if so would I be willing to accept a painting as payment.Seeing as how I had nothing to lose but time, I said “O.K.” All the paintings were of the “new” style so I chose a small painting with wild turkeys and stretched the other six. Over the next couple of days the painting remained in my shop as I worked on other projects and contemplated how I might frame it. Strangely, the painting began to grow on me. I would stop what I was doing and ponder what it was about the painting that was drawing me to it.I’ve been in the art business long enough to know that if a painting refuses to be ignored and you don’t own it, buy it. If you already own it take the time to analyze it, doing so will add greatly to your knowledge about art and yourself

My analysis, at least the part that I can put into words, focuses on Robert’s choice of colors.Everything else in the painting was typical Robert Butler, the subject matter (Robert has sold more turkeys than Publix), the composition and secondary objects testify to his unique knowledge of the country hereabouts. Perhaps, at least in part, it was because Robert and I are friends of long standing and I was pleased that he could still hear the Muse and was following it. The boldness of his pallet assured me that his energy, vitality and confidence in his talent was intact. He is yet his own man.There’s more, but I’m not capable of putting the mystery of art into words.

I have long been convinced that history will treat him kindly as the story of Florida’s contemporary art and artists unfolds.

Jim Fitch lives in Sebring, Florida. He writes exclusively about the art and artists of Florida and the future value, historic and financial, of their work. His new book, “Living Dogs and Dead Lions” is about the risks and rewards of buying early in an artists career. You can preview the book Visit his new blog: Living Dogs and Dead Lions at: