Lady Butler, Battle Painter – A Surprise Discovery

Victoria here, working on a talk on our trip to Belgium last year (for the 195th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo) on a very rainy weekend, June 18-20, 2010.  Thousands of reenactors complete with regalia, horses, tents and camp followers were on display for thousands of tourists and observers, just like Kristine and her daughter Brooke, my husband Ed and me. We were all shivering as we tramped around the muddy fields, much like those soldiers would have done 195 years ago.
Turner, Waterloo, Tate Britain
I am presenting a talk on Waterloo: The Battle and the 195th Anniversary at a meeting of The Beau Monde chapter of the Romance Writers of America in New York City on June 28, 2011.  In the process of putting together my power point presentation, I came across many paintings of the events leading up to, during and following the battle.  A few of them might have been done, as was Turner’s, within days or weeks.  But most of the paintings were done later in the 19th century, feeding a British taste for celebrating the great moments of the Empire’s development.

The Roll Call, purchased by Queen Victoria, The Royal Collection (portrayuing scene in the Crimean War)

Elizabeth Thompson, later Lady Butler (1846-1933), was born in Switzerland to English parents.  She showed early talent for drawing and painting. She was able to study in Italy, and in 1866, entered the Female School of Art in Kensington, London. Eventually in 1873, one of her paintings was exhibited at the Royal Academy, the epitome of achievement for British painters.  She went on to further success.

In 1877, she married General Sir William Butler, of Tipperary, and moved with him to many foreign posts having six children along the way. Upon his retirement, they moved to his estate in Ireland.  He was an Irish patriot, which did not endear him to the London establishment. Some of his disapproval might have affected Lady Butler, though she continued to paint all her life.

One of her most famous paintings, “Scotland Forever!” shows the Union Brigade, the Inniskillen Scots Greys, at the Battle of Waterloo.  It is widely reproduced and beloved of many.
The 28th Regiment at the Battle of Quatre Bras, 1815, is in Melbourne, Australia, at the National Gallery of Victoria. It was painted in 1875, and drawn from the accounts of Captain William Siborne.  It shows  the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment of Foot, on June 16, 1815, a battle leading up to Waterloo.

The Defense of Rorke’s Drift as commissioned by Queen Victoria and hangs in the Royal Collection.
It portrays a battle during the Zulu War in 1879.

Lady Butler was unusual among the painters of war scenes, most of whom were working long after the battles were over from written accounts. Obviously, she was a woman and most of the others were men.  Some observers also point out that she seemed to have more sympathy with the plight of the individual participants in the battles.  I do not have a broad enough knowledge of her work to endorse this view, but it seems to ring true.
Butler herself, in her autobiography, wrote: “I never painted for the glory of war, but to portray its pathos and heroism.”

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