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Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Elizabeth Southerden (née Thompson), Lady Butler (1846-1933), Military painter; wife of Sir William Francis Butler

Military painter; born 3 November 1846, in Lausanne. Attended Female School of Art, South Kensington 1861–3 and 1866–70; studied independently in Italy 1869–70; exhibited widely from 1867; gained instant celebrity with The Roll Call (RA 1874); proposed for election as first woman ARA 1879 (failed by two votes); married Major William Butler 1877, five children; continued exhibiting until 1920s; died Gormanston Castle, Ireland, 2 October 1933.

The opening day of the Royal Academy [Monday, 4 May 1874]. A dense crowd before my grenadiers.… I may say that I awoke this morning and found myself famous.[1]

In the same exhibition [RA Summer Exhibition 1874] was the brilliant picture ‘The Roll Call’ […] It was so popular that the coveted railing had to be placed in front, so great were the crowds that surrounded it. […] Elizabeth Thompson was very nearly elected a member of the R.A., after this great success, and I heard that it was chiefly the determined opposition of Sir John Gilbert, R.A. that prevented her being elected. Sir John is credited with declaring that he didn’t ‘want any women in.’ Needless to say that he was an old bachelor.[2]

In person Lady Butler was notable for a combination of dignity and humility; she was always reticent in the presence of public curiosity. Her friends were gratefully familiar with the droll inventiveness of her conversation.[3]

Carol Blackett-Ord


Footnotesback to top

1) Butler 1923, p.110.
2) Jopling 1925, p.69.
3) Atkins 1949.

Referencesback to top

Atkins 1949
Atkins, J.B., ‘Butler, Elizabeth Southerden (1846–1933)’, DNB, Oxford, 1949.

Bills & Webb 2007
Bills, M., and D. Webb, eds, Victorian Artists in Photographs: [The World of G.F. Watts]. Selections from the Rob Dickins Collection, exh. cat., Watts Gallery, Compton, 2007.

Butler 1923
Butler, E., An Autobiography, London, 1923.

Cheney, Faxon & Russo 2000
Cheney, L., A.C. Faxon and K.L. Russo, Self-portraits by Women Painters, Aldershot, 2000.

Fish 1901
Fish, A., ‘Some English Lady Artists’, Harmsworth Magazine, May 1901, pp.329f.

Furniss 1923
Furniss, H., Some Victorian Women: Good, Bad and Indifferent, London, 1923.

Gigliucci 1910
Gigliucci, V., ed., Clara Novello’s Reminiscences, London, 1910.

Gillett 1990
Gillett, P., The Victorian Painter’s World, Stroud, Glos., 1990.

Groves 1954
Blom, E., ed., Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 10 vols, London, 1954; repr. 1977.

Jopling 1925
Jopling, L., Twenty Years of my Life, 1867 to 1887, London, 1925.

Maas 1984
Maas, J., The Victorian Art World in Photographs, London, 1984.

McMaster 2008
McMaster, J., ‘That Mighty Art of Black-and-White: Linley Sambourne, Punch and the Royal Academy’, British Art Journal, Autumn 2008, pp.62–76.

Meynell 1898
Meynell, W., ‘The Life and Work of Lady Butler’, The Art Annual for 1898 (Art Journal Christmas number), 1898, pp.1–32.

Rideal 2001
Rideal, L., Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by Women Artists, exh. cat., NPG, London, 2001.

Usherwood 2004
Usherwood, P., ‘Butler , Elizabeth Southerden, Lady Butler (1846–1933)’, ODNB, Oxford, 2004.

Usherwood & Spencer-Smith 1987
Usherwood, P., and J. Spencer-Smith, Lady Butler, Battle Artist, 1846–1933, exh. cat., National Army Museum, London, 1987.