Completed Military History 30 Did Elizabeth Southerden Thompson Butler paint 'Alma Heights'?

Alma Heights
Topic: Artist

Who painted this artwork? The acquisition information claims it was painted by Lady Butler, but there is no signature and it is out of style for artist.

Completed, Outcome

Alice Payne,

The attribution of this work has now been amended to 'unknown artist' with the following additional information added:
formerly attributed to Elizabeth Southerden Thompson Butler, 1846–1933

These changes will appear on the Your Paintings website by the end of November 2014. Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.


Martin Hopkinson,

You should send a photograph to Jenny Spencer - Smith at the National Army Museum and Paul Usherwood at Northumbria University, the leading authorities on Lady Butler's paintings

Peter Harrington,

This appears to be a rough oil study for a painting and therefore could be by Butler or any number of mid-19th century British artists. Alma and the other Crimean battles were popular themes with both professional British artists and soldier-artists; see my 'British Artists and War: The Face of Battle in Paintings and Prints' (London, 1993).

Felicity Herring,

I have been studying Elizabeth Butler for a number of years and I can find no reference to the above picture in her biography, her diary or any other published work by her or about her. As you point out it is not in her usual style and it is not signed, her other works are signed. In contrast her painting of 'The Colours: advance of the Scots Guards at the Alma' she details the help she received from Captain Lindsay (then Lord Wantage) and the study of that painting is a watercolour of just the Captain with the colours. The study is signed and dated. Most of her paintings are dated Alma Heights is not. As you point out the style is quite different too.

As Peter Harrington points out, this is a preliminary study and as such it would be unlikely to be signed, whether by Lady Butler with her customary EB monogram or any other artist. But I agree that it does not seem to be comparable stylistically with any of her work. And she always painted soldiers in action from the front, usually a head-on viewpoint, unlike this particular painting. So I am strongly of the opinion that this is not her work. Unfortunately, it is hard to suggest an alternative attribution - certainly there is nothing comparable stylistically in the NAM collection. However unless anyone has any further thoughts on this discussion, or there are any clues to be gained from the picture's provenance, I propose to recommend to the PCF that the attribution to Lady Butler is changed to 'formerly attributed'.

Martin Hopkinson,

The possibility that this painting is not by a British artist, but by a French artist cannot be ruled out . The French army played a significant part in this battle

Alice Payne,

Would you like me to change the attribution to French School?

Thanks all for the very useful discussion.

Alice - I think changing the attribution to "formerly attributed to" (ass suggested by Jenny above) would be best. Unless anyone can prove a French attribution.

Alice Payne,

We can add 'formerly attributed to' in the additional title information. Shall I add 'possibly by French School'?

Martin Hopkinson,

Would it not be a good idea to send an image to the Musee de l'Armee in the Hotel des Invalides addressed to the curator who is responsible for the period of the Crimean War?

Martin Hopkinson,

Some French painters are known to have painted the British troops in action at the Battle of Alma, as well as the French troops. These include Eugene Lami and Horace Vernet. Vernet painted soldiers from the Black Watch. This sketch in its vigour and colour speaks of an artist familiar with the Delacroix school. Charles Vernier also represented Highlanders
There is an article by Nicolas Aude 'Les rapports franco - britanniques a travers la peinture militaire dans la guerre de Crimee' in Revue historiques des armees, 264, 2011, pp. 19- 31 which might lead one to other sources on representations of the Battle of the Alma

Martin Hopkinson,

It should be borne in mind that this sketch may be only for a significant detail of a very much more extensive composition, and that the finished picture could well be horizontal in format like most battle-pictures of this period

Martin Hopkinson,

Other French painters who exhibited large pictures of the battle at the Exposition Universelle in 1855 included Gustave Dore [on whom there is currently a large exhibition at the Musee d'Orsay], Jean - Louis Hipployte Bellange[accent aigu] , Henri - Alfred Darjou and Joseph Beaume. The paintings by Lami and Bellange are in the Chateau de Versailles. Isidore Pils also painted the battle, and this picture is also at Versailles.
The Scottish soldiers are prominent in the left foreground of the painting by Lami which one can see on the Joconde website
The British Library has a couple of monographs on Bellange
There are also a number of lithographs after paintings of the battle by other artists in the Bibliotheque Nationale

Martin Hopkinson,

Could this be a sketch by Louis William Desanges who certainly painted Crimean subjects including the Battle of Alma see the background of Wantage Town Council's Robert James Lindsay [1832- 1901] for instance
also Lieutenant - Colonel Charles Russell at the Battle of Inkerman [Ministry of Defence Art Collection]
His Victoria Cross Gallery included a picture of Colonel Bell VCof the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Alma

Martin Hopkinson,

Captain Loyd - Lindsay of the Royal Scottish Fusiliers won the VC for saving the standard in the battle on the hill
Someone more versed in military painting than I am might be able to judge if this sketch is by Desanges, presumably for an incident in the background
No painting by Desange is recorded in the 1905 catalogue of the collection of Lord and Lady Wantage [Loyd - Lindsay became Lord Wantage]
An engraving is illustrated on p. 9 of S.O. Beeton ed., Our Soldiers and the Victoria Cross, London , c. 1867

Loyd - Lindsay's own account appears in Lord Wantage V.C, K.C.B., A Memoir edited by his wife, London, 1907 - the relevant pages being pp. 25-37, 420-21

Martin - We have one of Desanges' Wantage VC collection in the Museum and I cannot see any similarity in style (or scale, for what it's worth), despite similarity in subject.

Martin Hopkinson,

What one has to remember is that it is a sketch , almost certainly for a detail in the back of the painting, where the scale of figures is small in relation to the main part of the finished picture representing one of the heroes of the battle of The Alma, whoever the artist is

Very good points, Martin. Unfortunately, we have no link with Desanges for the painting. And in my personal, though inexpert opinion, the style is not that of Desanges.

Martin Hopkinson,

Another way to approach this from is to establish which charge up a hill with a standard this is. The Crimean War battles received such extensive coverage in military histories, personal reminiscences and the press, that if this is really the Battle of Alma, one should be able to pin down the name of the officer with the standard and the exact company and regiment involved

The Regiment is the 42nd (later known as The Black Watch). The Sovereign's Colour was carried by Sir Peter Halkett of Pitfirrane at the Battle of the Alma.

Martin Hopkinson,

Are oil sketches of this kind rare among British military painters? Has any French military art historian been shown an image of this painting? Could this be a preliminary idea for part of a painting, which was not used in the finished work? Did Robert Gibb make sketches of this kind before painting his Battle of Alma in Kelvingrove? Have the curators of Glasgow Museums been asked if they can express an opinion on this painting- perhaps Joanna Meacock?

Glasgow Museums,

Apologies for coming into this discussion so late. This painting does indeed look like a preparatory study for a larger painting. With regard to Robert Gibb, I have only seen pencil studies for his 'Alma: Forward the 42nd' in our collection, no oil sketches. For example, 'First sketch for "The Alma"' (pencil, heightened with white; NGS, D4056) - while somewhat looser in his style than his finished paintings, the drawing still has a certain hardness of edge and detail. I know of nothing by him quite as free as the preparatory work under discussion, although there is a similar sense of movement and compositional structure.

Alice Payne,

Are we looking at a possible Robert Gibb attribution?

As noted by Glasgow Museums above, the paint appears to be handled very freely, giving rise to the possibility (?taken at face value), that this is not necessarily a nineteenth century work. But I presume this fact can be deduced from viewing the original. It would be interesting to have the Black Watch Castle & Museum's input on this point.
However, as there is nothing that either ties this preliminary work down to a specific final painting or, on grounds of style, to a particular artist - indeed we are spoilt for choice on the number of potential candidates, as noted in the discussion above - I suggest that the work is relabelled 'artist unknown, formerly attributed to Elizabeth Southerden Thompson Butler (1846–1933)'.