Elizabeth Thompson’s Striking Portrayal Of The Sorrow & Heroism Of War

Butler, Elizabeth Southerden Thompson, 1846-1933; Rescuing the Wounded under Fire
Rescuing the Wounded under Fire

Known for her paintings conveying the pain, fear, loss and heroism of war, Elizabeth Thompson was one of the only women painters who rose to fame for her work depicting battle scenes in her time. Her skillfully created paintings give us a glimpse into the eyes of the forgotten soldiers and horses whose brutal lives are now nothing more than a collage of words, names, and dates of the wars they fought in a time long gone by.


Elizabeth Thompson


Born in: Switzerland 

Died in: Ireland 

Born on November 3rd, 1846 in Switzerland, Elizabeth began her formal art training when her family moved to Florence in 1862 and apprenticed with artist Giuseppe Bellucci, before moving by herself to London to continue her artistic career at the Female School of Art in 1866, painting mostly religious subjects.


However, a trip to Paris, France forever changed the course of her artistic career when she first saw painted battle scenes by celebrated artists such as Édouard Detaille and Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier. Soon after her trip, she created her first war painting which was her first submission to the Royal Academy Of Art’s art show, and flung her into success and popularity.


Being a young and pretty female painter was nearly unheard of at the time in the art world, but especially with painters who depict war scenes. Her paintings would usually show the British troops right after or before a confrontation with the enemy, but most of her work does not show scenes of the army interacting with their opponent.

Butler, Elizabeth Southerden Thompson, 1846-1933; The Royal Horse Guards Retreat from Mons, 1914
The Royal Horse Guards Retreat from Mons

Elizabeth spent around 11 years being  full time war painter, before getting married to Sir William Francis Butler, a British officer that she met during one of her many trips with the British Army. After her marriage, she nearly stopped painting completely to care for their six children and travel with her husband across Europe. She did illustrate several black and while drawings for her sister during that time, who was a poet.

The Royal Horse Guards Retreat from Mons

Once her husband retired, they move to a castle in Ireland, where they remained until he passed away. After his death, Elizabeth, moved in with her youngest daughter Eileen, Viscountess Gormanston, at Gormanston Castle, County Meath. She continued to live there until her death in 1922, the same year that her autobiography was published about her life and paintings.

“I never painted for the glory of war, but to portray its pathos and heroism”.

Halt on a Forced March, Penninsular War Painting by Elizabeth Thompson

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