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Joy of Museums

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Scotland Forever! by Elizabeth Thompson

Scotland Forever! by Elizabeth Thompson

Scotland Forever! by Elizabeth Thompson

Scotland Forever! by Elizabeth Thompson depicts the start of the charge of the Royal Scots Greys, a British cavalry regiment that charged alongside the British heavy cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The title comes from the battle cry of the soldiers who called “Now, my boys, Scotland forever!” as they charged. Butler had never observed a battle; however, she did watch her husband’s regiment during training manoeuvre, and she positioned herself in front of charging horses to study their movement.

The painting has highly popular and was reproduced many times and is considered an iconic representation of the battle itself, and heroism more generally. Tzar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany both received copies, and later during the First World War, both the British and the Germans used the image in their propaganda material, with the Scots Greys transformed into Prussian cavalry by the Germans.

For military historians, the painting does have some minor historical inaccuracies. The horses which dominate the picture are heavy grey mounts which were used by the regiment through most of its history until mechanisation. However, at Waterloo, the regiment had brown horses like the other heavy cavalry regiments, and the name “greys” is derived from the grey uniforms the regiment wore in the early 18th century. Also, the bearskin caps were covered during the actual battle by black oilskin covers. Historical records also confirm that the Scots Greys did not start the charge at a gallop, due to the broken ground, and instead advanced at a quick walk.

According to Wellington, though the Scots Greys were superior individual horsemen, they were inflexible and lacked tactical ability. He later wrote:

“Our officers of cavalry have acquired a trick of galloping at everything. They never consider the situation, never think of manoeuvring before an enemy, and never keep back or provide a reserve.”

Butler was inspired to paint the charge as a response to a painting that she saw and intensely disliked. Famous for her portrayals of battle scenes, Elizabeth Butler was a remarkable artist and one of the few 19th-century women to acquire fame for her historical paintings.

Elizabeth Thompson

Elizabeth Southerden Thompson, Lady Butler (1846 – 1933) was a British painter, who specialised in painting scenes from British military campaigns and battles, 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 married Lieutenant-General Sir William Butler, becoming Lady Butler.

In 1866 she entered the Royal Female School of Art in London, and after moving to Florence in 1869, she continued her studies at the Accademia di Belle Arti. After became a Roman Catholic, she initially concentrated on religious subjects, but upon going to Paris in 1870, she was exposed to battle scenes by famous French artists and switched her focus to war paintings. In the 1874 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, her painting “The Roll Call” became so popular that a policeman had to be stationed next to the picture to regulate the crowds that came to see it. Butler wrote that after the Exhibition, she awoke to find herself famous. In 1879, Butler came within two votes of becoming the first woman to be elected as an Associate Member of the Royal Academy.

After her marriage in 1877 to Sir William Francis Butler (1838–1910), an officer of the British Army, from Ireland, Butler travelled the far reaches of the Empire with her husband. On her husband’s retirement from the army, they moved to County Tipperary, Ireland. During the Irish Civil War, a collection of watercolours she had created from their time in Palestine were moved for safekeeping, later again they were moved to London. Ironically most of them were destroyed during the WWII German Blitz of London.

Elizabeth Thompson raised six children and continued to paint. She was widowed in 1910 and died in 1933, shortly before her 87th birthday.

Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo was fought in 1815 near Waterloo in Belgium, part of the Netherlands at the time. The French army under Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by two of the armies of the Coalition. A British-led allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington, and a Prussian army. The battle marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Waterloo was a decisive engagement and Napoleon’s last. According to Wellington, the battle was “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life”. Napoleon abdicated four days later, and coalition forces entered Paris. The defeat at Waterloo ended Napoleon’s rule as Emperor of the French and marked the end of his Hundred Days return from exile. This battle ended the First French Empire.

Scotland Forever!

  • Title:                Scotland Forever!
  • Artist:              Elizabeth Thompson
  • Year:               1881
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Movement:     Military art
  • Museum:         Leeds Art Gallery

Elizabeth Thompson

A Tour of Women Artists

Reflections

  • One of the few 19th-century women to acquire fame for her historical paintings.

~~~

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought,
but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

– Albert Einstein

~~~


Photo Credit: Elizabeth Thompson [Public domain]

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