Elizabeth Thompson

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Elizabeth Thompson
(Lady Butler)
Lady Elizabeth Southerden Butler (née Thompson) by Lady Elizabeth Southerden Butler (née Thompson).jpg
Self-portrait, 1869
Born Elizabeth Thompson
(1846-11-03)3 November 1846
Lausanne, Switzerland
Died 2 October 1933(1933-10-02) (aged 86)
Gormanston Castle, County Meath, Ireland
Nationality British
Known for Painting
Notable work

Calling the Roll After An Engagement, Crimea (or The Roll Call), 1874
The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras, 1875
The Defence of Rorke's Drift, 1880

Scotland Forever!, 1881
Movement history painting, Military art

Elizabeth Southerden Thompson, Lady Butler (3 November 1846 – 2 October 1933) was a British painter,[1] one of the few female painters to achieve fame for history paintings, especially military battle scenes, at the end of that tradition. Some of her most famous military scenes come from the Napoleonic Wars, but she covered most major 19th-century wars and painted several works depicting the First World War. She married Lieutenant General Sir William Butler, becoming Lady Butler.


Born at Villa Claremont in Lausanne, Switzerland, she specialized in painting scenes from British military campaigns and battles, including the Crimean War and the Battle of Waterloo. The Roll Call (purchased by Queen Victoria), The Defence of Rorke's Drift, and Scotland Forever!, showing the Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo, (Leeds Art Gallery) are among her better-known works. She wrote about her military paintings in an autobiography published in 1922: "I never painted for the glory of war, but to portray its pathos and heroism".[2][3][4]

She was the daughter of Thomas James Thompson (1812–1881) and his second wife Christiana Weller (1825–1910). Her sister was the noted essayist and poet Alice Meynell. Elizabeth began receiving art instruction in 1862, while growing up in Italy. In 1866 she went to South Kensington, London, and entered the Royal Female School of Art. She became a Roman Catholic along with the rest of the family after they moved to Florence in 1869. While in Florence, under the tutelage of the artist Giuseppe Bellucci (1827–1882), Elizabeth attended the Accademia di Belle Arti. She signed her works as E.B.; Elizth. Thompson or Mimi Thompson (she was called "Mimi" from her childhood).[2][3][4]

Initially she concentrated on religious subjects like The Magnificat (1872), but upon going to Paris in 1870 she was exposed to battle scenes from Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier and Édouard Detaille, and switched her focus to war paintings. With the painting Missing (1873), a Franco-Prussian War battle scene depicting the common soldiers' suffering and heroism, she earned her first submission to the Royal Academy. After The Roll Call was shown in 1874 at the Academy, the paintings' immense popularity made her a national celebrity. As the paintings toured Europe, along with photographs of Elizabeth, she gained even more notice because people found out that she was both young and pretty, something normally not associated with painters of battle scenes. It also helped that during this time there was a huge swell of Victorian pride and romanticism for the growing British Empire.[2][3][4] While Lady Butler's topics reflected such romanticism, her paintings were generally realistic in detail with aspects such as confusion, mud and exhaustion being accurately portrayed. Her works tend to focus on British troops shown in action, or shortly after it, but avoiding scenes of hand-to-hand combat. The troops are often shown as their opponents might have seen them, but relatively few of the opponents themselves are shown.

Her career largely ended with her 11 June 1877 marriage to Sir William Francis Butler (1838–1910), a distinguished officer of the British Army, from Tipperary, Ireland. Not only was she now married, but she would travel to the far reaches of the Empire with her husband and raise their six children. During this time Lady Butler came under the influence of her Irish husband's belief that the colonial imperialism of the United Kingdom and other European powers might not be in the best interest of the natives in colonial lands. Yet she continued to paint scenes showing the valour of the ordinary British soldier. Butler also did some black and white illustration, including of poems by her sister, Alice Meynell, and of works by Thackeray. She exhibited her work at the Palace of Fine Arts and The Woman's Building at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.[5] Her daughter, Elizabeth Butler, married Lt.-Col. Randolph Albert Fitzhardinge Kingscote (b. 6 Feb 1867, d. 8 Dec 1940) on 24 July 1903.

On her husband's retirement from the army, she moved with him to Ireland, where they lived at Bansha Castle, County Tipperary. She showed pictures at the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1892. Among the paintings that she took with her to County Tipperary was a set of water-colours that she had painted while with her husband in Palestine. During the Irish Civil War they were transferred to her daughter in Gormanston Castle for safekeeping, but were almost all destroyed later by German bombs in London during World War II.

Lady Butler was widowed in 1910, but continued to live at Bansha until 1922, when she took up residence with the youngest of her six children, Eileen, Viscountess Gormanston, at Gormanston Castle, County Meath. She died there shortly before her 87th birthday and was interred at nearby Stamullen graveyard.[2][3][4]


The Return from Inkerman, Ferens Art Gallery
"Remnants of an Army", showing the only British survivor of the 1842 retreat from Kabul



Works by[edit]

Works about[edit]

  • Fillimore, Francis. - "Britain's Battle Painter: Lady Butler and Her Art". - New England Home Magazine. - Vol. XII, No. 13, September 1900, pp. 579–587 (also published in Windsor Magazine. - Vol. XI, December 1899-May 1900, pp. 643–652)
  • Gladwell, Malcolm. (2016). "The Lady Vanishes". - Episode 1, Season 1, Revisionist History Podcast. http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/01-the-lady-vanishes
  • Gormanston, Eileen. (1953). - A Little Kept. - New York: Sheed and Ward
  • Harrington, Peter. (1993). - British Artists and War: The Face of Battle in Paintings and Prints, 1700-1914. - London: Greenhill. - ISBN 1-85367-157-6
  • Lalumia, Matthew Paul. - "Lady Elizabeth Thompson Butler in the 1870s". - Women's Art Journal. - Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring-Summer 1983, pp. 9–14
  • Lee, Michael. - "A Centenary of Military Painting". - Army Quarterly. - October 1967
  • Meynell, Wilfrid. (1898). - The Life and Work of Lady Butler. - London: The Art Annual
  • O'Byrne, M. K. - "Lady Butler". - Irish Monthly. - December 1950
  • Usherwood, Paul. - "Elizabeth Thompson Butler: a case of tokenism." - Women's Art Journal. - Vol. 11, Fall-Winter 1990-91, 14-15
  • Usherwood, Paul, and Jenny Spencer-Smith, (1987). - Lady Butler, Battle Artist, 1846-1933. - Gloucester: Sutton. - ISBN 0-86299-355-5
  • Walker, J. Crompton. (1927). - Irish Life & Landscape. - Dublin: Talbot Press
  • Irish Arts Review. - "The Royal Scottish Academy Exhibitors 1826-1990". - Volume 4 Number 4: Winter 1987. (Calne 1991)
  • Chapter 3,The Victorian Artist by Julie Codell, 2012, Cambridge UP.
  • Chapter 5, Masculinities in Victorian Painting by Joseph Kestner, 1995, Scolar Press.


  1. ^ "Butler (Elizabeth), Lady". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. p. 264. 
  2. ^ a b c d Usherwood, Paul, and Jenny Spencer-Smith, (1987). - Lady Butler, Battle Artist, 1846-1933. - Gloucester: Sutton. - ISBN 0-86299-355-5
  3. ^ a b c d Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler) Archived 9 December 2004 at the Wayback Machine. - Spartacus Educational Schoolnet. - Retrieved: 2005-05-01
  4. ^ a b c d Obituary: The Times. 3 October 1933.
  5. ^ Nichols, K. L. "Women's Art at the World's Columbian Fair & Exposition, Chicago 1893". Retrieved 26 July 2018. 
  6. ^ "Lady Elizabeth Southerden Butler RI (1846-1933)". 

External links[edit]