Saturday 16 December 2017

Mary Kenny: A portrait of the artist as a woman

Completing the centenary year of 1916, a fine painter's record of Irish history

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Women artists have often been overlooked - or under-rated - by history, so it is good to see the inspiring paintings of Lady Elizabeth Butler in the exhibition currently at Dublin's National Gallery, 'Creating History'.

To complete the centenary year of 1916, the exhibition illuminates a narrative of Irish history, in battle, politics, personalities, people's movements, insurrection - and sometimes in tragedy. Elizabeth Butler, an Englishwoman born in 1846, was an outstanding military painter, a celebrity in her own lifetime for her battle scenes depicting Waterloo, the Crimea, and elsewhere. When she was 72 years of age she painted a moving First World war scene simply called Mons.

Elizabeth had a strong connection with Ireland - her husband, Sir William Butler was Irish and she lived in this country for many years. Her battle pictures were, in their time, much admired: Queen Victoria especially coveted the celebrated The Roll Call. But these pictures were not just about military glory. Elizabeth Butler always brought something human and poignant to her depictions of soldiers at war.

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