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Elizabeth Thompson

Elizabeth Southerden Thompson, Lady Butler

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Elizabeth Southerden Thompson, Lady Butler (3 November 1846 – 2 October 1933) was a British painter, 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".

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).

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. 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. Her daughter, Elizabeth Butler, married Lt.-Col. Randolph Albert Fitzhardinge Kingscote (b. 6 Feb 1867, d. 8 Dec 1940) on 24 July 1903.

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Elizabeth Thompson Artworks
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