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Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler (3 November 1846 – 2 October 1933) was a Britishmarker painter, one of the few female painters to achieve fame for history paintings, especially military battle scenes, at the end of that tradition. She was married to Lieutenant General Sir William Butler.


Born at Villa Claremont in Lausanne, Switzerlandmarker, she specialized in painting scenes from British military campaigns and battles, including the Crimean War and the Battle of Waterloomarker. The Roll Call (purchased by Queen Victoria), The Defence of Rorke's Drift, and Scotland Forever featuring the Scots Greys (in Leedsmarker City 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".Usherwood, Paul, and Jenny Spencer-Smith, (1987). - Lady Butler, Battle Artist, 1846-1933. - Gloucester: Sutton. - ISBN 0862993555 Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler) - Spartacus Educational Schoolnet. - Retrieved: 2005-05-01Obituary: Lady Butler. A Famous Military Painter. - The Times. - (c/o Victorian Art in Britain). - October 3, 1933. - Retrieved: 2005-05-01
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 Italymarker. In 1866 she went to South Kensingtonmarker, Londonmarker and entered the Female School of Artmarker. She became a Roman Catholic along with the rest of the family after they moved to Florencemarker in 1869. While in Florence, under the tutelage of the artist Giuseppe Bellucci (1827 - 1882), Elizabeth attended the Accademia di Belle Artimarker. She signed her works as E.B.; Elizth. Thompson or Mimi Thompson (she was called "Mimi" from her childhood).

Initially she concentrated on religious subjects like The Magnificat (1872), but upon going to Parismarker 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 Academymarker. After The Roll Call was shown in 1874 at the Academy, she became a nineteenth century celebrity, due to the paintings' immense popularity. 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 an incredible amount of Victorian pride and romanticism for the growing British Empire.

Her career and fame peaked with her 11 June 1877 marriage to Sir William Francis Butler (1838 - 1910), a distinguished officer of the British Army, from Tipperarymarker in Irelandmarker. Not only was this beauty now married, breaking the heart of many a young man, but now she would travel to the far reaches of the Empire with her husband and raise their five children. During this time she also came under the influence of her Irish husband's beliefs that the colonial imperialism of Great Britainmarker and other European powers may not be in the best interest of the native people in far-off lands, but 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.

On her husband's retirement from the army, she moved with him to Irelandmarker, where they lived at Banshamarker Castle, County Tipperarymarker.She showed pictures at the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1892. Among the paintings that she took with her to Co. 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 safe keeping, but were almost all destroyed later by German bombs in London during World War 2.

She 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 Meathmarker. She died there shortly before her 87th birthday and was interred at nearby Stamullen graveyard.


Chronological list of paintings by Thompson-Butler
  • The Magnificat (1872)
  • Missing (1873)
  • Calling the Roll After An Engagement, Crimea (or The Roll Call (1874) - H.M. The Queen; Buckingham Palacemarker)
  • The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras (1875 – National Gallery of Victoriamarker, Melbournemarker)
  • Balaclava (1876 – City of Manchester Art Gallerymarker)
  • Missed (1876)
  • The Return from Inkerman (1877 - Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston upon Hullmarker)
  • The Remnants of an Army (1879 – Tate Gallerymarker)
  • Listed for the Connaught Rangers (1879 – Burymarker Art Gallery)
  • The Defence of Rorke's Drift (1880 - H.M The Queen; Windsor Castlemarker)
  • Scotland Forever! (1881 – Leeds City Art Gallerymarker)
  • Tel-el-Kebir (1885)
  • A Lament in the Desert (Private Collection)
  • Evicted (1890 - The Irish Folklore Commission University College Dublinmarker)
  • The Camel Corps (1891)
  • Halt in a Forced March (1892)
  • The Rescue of the Wounded (1895)
  • Steady the Drums and Fifes (1896 - H.M. The Queen; 57th Regiment, The Middlesex)
  • Floreat Etona (1898 - Private Collection)
  • Dawn at Waterloo (1898 - Private Collection)
  • The Morning of Talavera (1898)
  • Within Sound of Guns (painted at Bansha Castle; British Army Staff College)


Works by

  • 1903. - Letters from the Holy Land. - London: A. & C. Black
  • 1909. - From Sketch-book and Diary. - London: A. & C. Black
  • 1922. - An Autobiography. - London: Constable & Co., Ltd.
  • 1992. - Autobiography. - Sevenoaks: Fisher Press. - ISBN 1874037086

Works about

  • Gormanston, Eileen. (1953). - A Little I Kept. - New York: Sheed and Ward
  • Lee, Michael. - "A Centenary of Military Painting". - Army Quarterly. - October 1967
  • O'Byrne, M. K. - "Lady Butler". - Irish Monthly. - December 1950
  • Usherwood, Paul, and Jenny Spencer-Smith, (1987). - Lady Butler, Battle Artist, 1846-1933. - Gloucester: Sutton. - ISBN 0862993555
  • 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)


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