Rescuing the Wounded Under Fire in Afghanistan

Lady Butler (1846–1933) was one of the most prominent female artists of the Victorian era and the only female artist of any merit to concentrate on military subjects.

Born Elizabeth Southerden Thompson, she entered art school in London in 1866 and over the next few years developed a mature, realistic style of painting that often depicted the experience of the ordinary soldier in war. She first exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1873 and six years later came very close to becoming the first woman associate of the male-dominated academy. In 1877 she married Major William Francis Butler who eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant general and who served in Egypt, the Sudan and South Africa. Lady Butler’s popularity waned after the 1870's despite the fact that she continued to produce high quality work that sympathised with the sufferings and heroism of the British soldier.

Rescuing the Wounded Under Fire in Afghanistan was painted in 1905, well after her popularity had declined. The painting depicts a trooper rescuing one of his wounded comrades from almost certain death at the hands of Afghan tribesman. An annotation in a copy of the staff college guide to its paintings suggests that the scene is intended to relate to a battle during the Tirah campaign of 1897/98. In her autobiography Lady Butler refers to this painting’s exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1908 saying “…to my great pleasure was given an excellent place in the Salle d’Honneur”. Her son, Lieutenant Colonel P R Butler, DSO, kindly presented the painting to the staff college at Camberley in 1958 along with another of her paintings, The Yeomanry Scout.