21 Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler (1846-1933)


'Self Portrait'

"I never painted for the glory of war, but to portray its pathos and heroism"

Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler, was a British historical painter of the many wars Britain fought in her life time. Her husband was an Irishman, Lieutenant General Sir William Butler. While her work has been described as Romantic, realism mattered a great deal to her. She never shied away from the suffering, exhausion, illness, and confusion of war. If you look at the painting below, '28th Regiment at Quatre Bras', you get the sense that each character is experiencing his own unique perspective - like if you asked them all about the battle, you'd get a hundred different answers. Elizabeth Butler was almost elected the first female associate member of the Royal Academy - losing by just two votes. She exhibited at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.

'28th Regiment at Quatre Bras'

Elizabeth 'Mimi' Thompson was born in Villa Claremont, in Lausanne, Switzerland. She grew up in Italy, where she studied art. Her sister Alice grew up to be a famous poet, essayist, and suffragist. In 1866 Elizabeth entered the Royal Female School of Art in Kensington, London. In 1869 her entire family moved to Florence, Italy, and converted to Catholicism. While there, she studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti under Giuseppe Bellucci. Her first works were religious. But, in 1870 she traveled to Paris, where she first saw war paintings by Meissonier and Detaille - she was hooked.

'The Defense of Rorke's Drift'

Her work 'Missing' was accepted at the Royal Exhibition in 1873, and her next work, 'Roll Call' entered the 1874 Royal Summer Exhibition - it drew such a crowd that police had to be stationed to watch the piece. Elizabeth became famous overnight. She toured Europe with her works, gaining popularity not only for her skill, but also due to Victorian England's swelling pride as an empire.

'Remnants of an Army'

In 1877 Elizabeth married Sir Butler. The couple toured all of the British Empire, while she raised their six children. While neither Elizabeth nor William approved of the Empire's treatment of its colonies, Elizabeth was careful not to show this in her work, instead focusing on the valor and heroism of individual soldiers.

'Rollcall, Crimea'

Sir William retired somewhere around 1890, and the family then lived at Bansha Castle in County Tipperary, Ireland:

Bansha Castle as it appears today

William died in 1910. In 1922 Ireland experienced a Civil War. Elizabeth took her watercolor paintings to her daughter's residence in Gormanston Castle, County Meath, for safekeeping (many were later destroyed in the London bombings of WWII). Elizabeth stayed with her daughter until her death, at age 87.



'V. C.' of the Seaforths'

'Enlisted for the Connaught Rangers'

'Scotland Forever'

'Royal Horse Guards Retreat from Mons', 1914

'Rescuing Wounded Under Fire'

'After Battle - Arrival of Lord Wolseley at Bridge of Tel-el-Kabir'

'Yeomanry Scout Galloping with Despatches, Boer War'

'Wounded Guardsman, Crimea', c 1854

'British Soldier with Two Camels, Egypt, 1st Sudan War'