Elizabeth Butler represents the defeat of the British in the First Afghan War (1839–1842), when they failed to overthrow the Afghan leader Dōst Moammad Khān. Doctor William Brydon, believed to be the sole survivor of the British forces, reaches the British garrison at Jalalabad, ‘faint and reeling on his jaded horse’ against a dying light’. Butler was the leading battle painter in Europe, famous for depicting soldiers fighting at the edge of Empire, rather than the military elite. Butler’s family benefitted from Empire, but her circle was anti-imperial. This painting was made during the Second Afghan War, and offers a critique of that war.
Gallery label, May 2023
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