Friday, July 23, 2010

Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler) - The Roll Call


It took a while for the sheer horror and incompetence of the Crimean war to hit home. At first characters like Lord Cardigan (whose knitted waistcoat became an enduring fashion) were treated as hero's. He toured the country making triumphant speeches. Artists generally followed the mood of the country and paintings were heroic in tone.

But as the actual soldiers (who hadn't bought their commissions) started to return, a different truth began to emerge. Even the Times eventually accused Cardigan of 'the falsification of history' and public sympathy shifted towards the ordinary soldiers who had been treated so badly and often died so bravely under the most appalling leadership.

Tennyson reflected this mood:

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Painters responded too, amongst them Elizabeth Thompson, later Lady Butler (1846 - 1933)
who in this famous painting showed the ordinary soldiers after the battle, bedraggled and exhausted being counted as survivors, as one falls dead at their feet.

At the Royal Academy it caused a sensation and had to be protected from the crowds by the Police. On tour in Liverpool, 20,000 people came to see it. 250,000 postcards were sold within a week and though it had been commissioned for £100 by a Manchester Industralist - Charles Galloway - Queen Victoria insisted upon buying it, though she agreed to sign six of the artists proofs for the engraving - though in the end this didn't happen.
(including this picture)


designer fabric said...

She's really beautiful. Even if at that time, there wasn't a lot of make ups or whatever, still, she looks great. I wish she was born at this time.

rob's uncle said...

You are misinformed about the signed engravings: Galloway is my ancestor and we still have one of them. I wish we had the original instead!

Anonymous said...

The original is a true master piece! it has been a while since i last had the pleaseure of seeing it though. is it still housed within the Grenadier Guards battalion HQ ? thats where i saw it last anyway

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