Elizabeth, Lady Butler: Portraits of War
Posted on 19th June 2021
Born Elizabeth Southernden Thompson on 3 November 1846, the future Lady Butler is arguably Britain’s greatest ever war artist though she never visited a warzone or experienced conflict at first hand, but her research was never less than meticulous, and she often used survivors from the conflicts she portrayed as models.
Her paintings were a sensation during the Victorian period and covered most of the major conflicts of the Imperial Age. Attitudes towards War and Empire have since changed, and her popularity has waned as a result.
She was accused by some of romanticising the act of war and glorifying its pursuit, both of which are unfair as she rarely fails to portray the dust and exhaustion of a campaign or the trauma of conflict on the faces of those depicted. It was always her intention she said, to depict the grim reality of war and focus not on any grandeur. Instead, she sought to capture a basic heroism, the pathos of its aftermath, and the human capacity for endurance and survival.
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