Elizabeth Southendon Thompson, born on 3rd November 1846 in Lausanne, spent her childhood travelling with her parents in Europe: the winters in Italy, the summers in Kent.
She and her sister were educated by their father with their mother, an accomplished watercolourist and pianist before her marriage, contributing art and music to their education. In 1862, she took her first formal painting lessons in London and later enrolled at the Female School of Art in South Kensington. Although she soon left, she returned three years later and determined to specialise in military subjects.
Realising that she needed a grounding in anatomical drawing, she travelled to Florence in 1869 to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. By 1873 she was able to rent a small studio in Fulham, from where she painted The Roll Call, her first picture to be exhibited at the Royal Academy.
The Roll Call caused a storm, as it depicted weary and ragged British soldiers in the Crimea which struck a chord with everyone in Britain at that time. The picture was so popular that a policeman had to be stationed outside the Academy to control the large crowd that wished to see it. Queen Victoria expressed a desire to own it and the artist had to paint a second copy for the person who had originally commissioned the painting.
In 1877, she married Major William Butler, a liberal Irish soldier. Elizabeth, now Lady Butler, travelling as a soldier's wife, drew much inspiration from the old soldiers, their costumes and their stories. However, despite Lady Butler's warlike subjects for her art, she was slightly pacifist at heart and once said: "Thank God I never painted for the glory of war, but to portray its pathos and heroism." This is indeed the reason why her work has, since her death in 1933, continued to be so very popular.