Updated: June 13, 2011



These Study Guides on War and Art were originally prepared for a course entitled "Responses to War: An Intellectual and Cultural History" given in the Department of History at The University of Adelaide between 1989 and 1999.

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 Lady Elizabeth Butler, "The Defence of Rorke's Drift" (1879)



Wilfred Meynell, The Life and Work of Lady Butler (Miss Elizabeth Thompson (The Art Annual 1898) (London: Art Journal Office, Christmas 1898).

Hugh Honour, The Image of the Black in Western Art. Vol. IV From the American Revolution to World War I. Part 1. Slaves and Liberators (Harvard University Press, 1989).


Lady Elizabeth (née Thompson) Butler (1846-1933), battle artist and wife of a general, commissioned by Queen Victoria to portray gallantry of soldiers at Rorke's Drift. Image seen by Victorian public as reproductions were hung in clubs, drawing rooms, and class rooms in Britain. Meynell said in 1898 survey of her work

Lady Butler has done for the soldier in Art what Mr. Rudyard Kipling has done for him in Literature - she has taken the individual, separated him, seen him close, and let the world see him. (1)

EB showed an interest in military themes from an early age. Never let the fact she never witnessed any of these military events interfere with her painting and drawing. Very early watercolour "Bavarian Artilery Going Into Action", first work accepted for exhibition at Royal Academy was "Missing" (2 wounded French officers in Franco-Prussian War"; first commissioned work "Calling the Roll after an Engagement in the Crimea" (1874?) caused a sensation, impressing Florence Nightingale who called for a copy to be sent to her bedside, Daily Telegraph opined that her mastery of military subjects hacked off at least two of the shackles oppressing all women:

Miss E. Thompson, a young lady scarcley heard of hitherto, with a modest, sober, unobtrusive painting, but replete with vigour, with judgement, with skill, with expression, and with pathos - such expression as we marvel at in Hogarth for its variety, such pathos as we recognize under the rough or stiff militarism of Horace Vernet - has shown her sisters which way they should go, and has approved herself the valiant compeer even of most famous and most epxerienced veterans of the line. To the unselect many, to the general public, Miss Thompson is as new as the Albert Memorial at Kensington; and it is for that reason that we hail her appearance with this honest, manly Crimean picture, as full of genius as it is of industry. We say that this sign is a wholesome one; because in every work of art-excellence executed by a woman, and commanding public acceptance and applause, we see a manacle knocked off a woman's wrist, and a shackle hacked off her ankle. We see her enlarged from wasting upon fruitless objects the sympathies which should be developed for the advantage of humanity. We see her endowed with a vocation which can be cultivated in her own home, without the risk of submission to any galling tyranny or more galling patronage" (2)

1879 marriage to General Sir William Butler who saw much service in Africa.

Floreat Etona (1882)

1. Meynell, p. 31
2. Meynell, pp. 6-7


War and Art

The Art of Empire: Lady Elizabeth Butler 's Painting of "The Defence of Rorke's Drift" (1879)


The Defence of Rorke's Drift (1880) (88K)

OH images

  • Lady Butler in her studio
  • Floreat Etona (1882) (K) - 1882 incident at Laing's Neck
  • "The Camel Corps"
  • "Calling the Roll" - Roll Call (1874) (K)
  • Scotland for Ever! (96K) - Charge of heavy cavalry at Waterloo
  • "After the Battle" - 1885 incident in war against Arabi Pasha 1882 in which her husband served
  • The Defence of Rorke's Drift (1880) (88K) - only 2-3 Zulus in corner. EB praised for omitting "such an unsavoury adjunct" - Honour, Image of the Black, p. 288.
  • "Quatre Bras" (1875) on 1815 campaign
  • "Balaklava"
  • "the Return from Inkerman"

Scotland for Ever! (96K)

Series of illustrations done for children's magazine "St. Nicholas":

  • "A Hussar Scout"
  • "A Member of the Scots Greys"
  • "A Trooper of the 17th Lancers"
  • "A Trumpeter of the Artillery"

Roll Call (1874)


Another paiting of Rorke's Drift by Neuville