More about Remnants of an Army


Remnants of an Army is a masterpiece by Elizabeth Thompson, who became Lady Butler upon her marriage to an Irish officer of the British military two years earlier.

In Remnants, her brilliant use of the sad, Eeyore-like forms of the officer and his horse are like a more striking version of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza by Daumier, who lived until the year that Remnants of an Army was created.

Remnants is an item of British propaganda for the British-Afghan War. Thompson's towering genius almost got her elected as an associate to the Royal Academy in the same year that she released Remnants of an Army, and it frightened those bigoted Victorian jerks so much that they changed the rules afterwards to explicitly prohibit women from joining.

The most powerful pieces of propaganda, in the service of the greedy motives of a colonial empire, tend to be those which depict a forlorn, abject image of the people on the side of colonization. It elicits fear from those of us who should be on A&E's "Hoarders" for our weapons-collecting: think of the devastating "Daisy" ad of 1964, aired only once by the LBJ campaign on U.S. TV, showing a little girl, blond, of course, playing with daisies (I guess they didn't have time to train cute baby bunnies to gather around her and little songbirds to alight on her shoulders) before she is turned into a pile of dust by a nuclear weapon. Johnson's voiceover then threatens us not to vote for his opponent, if you want the little girl and her daisies to live! LBJ's little blond girl is quite a different symbol from Dr. William Brydon, inaccurately represented in Remnants of an Army as the sole survivor of a British retreat from Kabul in 1842, but the use of the forlorn individual as wartime propaganda is similar.

A convert to Catholicism married to an Irishman, Thompson was doing a big favor for the very same colonial power which chronically mistreated her husband's people. You probably know the term "buffalo soldier" from the Bob Marley song of the same name. The "buffalo soldiers" were Black people enlisted by the colonial authorities to exterminate indigenous people in nations surrounded by the United States. This is a classic example of the technique of "divide and conquer," mastered by the Roman and British empires. "When black buffalo soldiers slaughtered Native Americans, they were slaughtering a part of themselves."

My mom once told me she would carry her teachers around with her in her pocket, so they could guide her through life. My pockets are full of people debating with one another about colonialism and its justification through the rhetoric of security. As a proponent of peace, militarism gives me a headache. But we cannot blame soldiers, who, like the buffalo soldiers, are just trying to survive and make their parents proud. Can we blame Elizabeth Thompson, then, who transcended the anti-Irish bigotry of her own Anglican birth and married an Irish officer, who did the bidding of the crown by attacking the Afghans while simultaneously championing the rights of his own oppressed people? Can we blame her for realizing that if she painted military scenes in support of her husband's military campaign, the Royal Academy would, if only temporarily, look past her womanhood and allow people to see her work? She probably didn't have pockets in her skirts, but her purse would have been full of debate between her Irish in-laws and Queen Victoria.

Of course, after her wedding, no soul would dare call Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler a "woman"! Her alma mater was called "The Royal Female School of Art," because it admitted both women and ladies. 



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Here is what Wikipedia says about Remnants of an Army

The remnants of an army, Jellalabad (sic), January 13, 1842, better known as Remnants of an Army, is an 1879 oil-on-canvas painting by Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler. It depicts William Brydon, assistant surgeon in the Bengal Army, arriving at the gates of Jalalabad in January 1842. The walls of Jalalabad loom over a desolate plain and riders from the garrison gallop from the gate to reach the solitary figure bringing the first word of the fate of the "Army of Afghanistan".

Supposedly Brydon was initially thought to be the only survivor of the approximately 16,000 soldiers and camp followers from the 1842 retreat from Kabul in the First Anglo-Afghan War, and is shown toiling the last few miles to safety on an exhausted and dying horse. A few other stragglers from the army arrived later, and larger numbers were eventually released or rescued after spending time as captives of Afghan forces.

The painting was made during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Lady Butler was developing a reputation for her military pictures after the favourable reception of her earlier painting The Roll Call of 1874, on a subject from the Crimean War. It measures 132.1 centimetres (52.0 in) by 233.7 centimetres (92.0 in)

Remnants of an Army was exhibited at the Royal Academy summer exhibition in 1879, and acquired by Sir Henry Tate, who presented to the Tate Gallery in 1897. Still owned by the Tate Gallery, it is on long-term loan as part of a permanent exhibition at the Somerset Military Museum: the 13th (1st Somersetshire) Regiment (Light Infantry) was involved in the First Anglo-Afghan War, and moved to Jalalabad in late 1841.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Remnants of an Army

Comments (4)

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I think that this artwork does a very good job of portraying its message in a convincing way, using neutral colors and browns to convey a sense of dead-ness and portraying what we can only assume to be the only survivor from an attack in a way that generates sympathy and a desire to support him in any way possible.


Great art, and Shoshone’s comments all seem on point. I like that he brought his mom into it ‘ My mom once told me she would carry her teachers around with her in her pocket, so they could guide her through life’. Inspiring :)


I rank this artwork a 4 out of 5. It is a masterpiece and the details are very intricate, there is a lot of emotion portrayed. For example, you can see the pure exhaustion in the man and the horse. They have returned from a long trip and, as assumed from the title, from a battle of which they maybe the only ones who survived, the only remnants. The landscape reminds me of a dry, desolate area.


As expressed, Elizabeth Thompson's Remnants of An Army is nothing short of a masterpiece. With its vivid colors, intricate detail, and fantastic use of depth, shading, and shape, this piece encapsulates the emotions and expressions of the weary suregion, William Brydon, and his exhausted horse. The level of accuracy and detail in both the foreground and background of this painting is undeniable and simple beautiful, and the fact that this is truely a painting is unbelieveable. With her fantastic skill, Thompson, who developed a reputation for military paintings, also included a message and meaning to this painting, and she cleverly used this painting as a powerful piece in the middle of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Between 1878 and 1880, the Second Anglo-Afghan War was a conflict between the British Raj and the Emirate of Arghanistan, in which the British decisively defeated Ayub Khan. In the end, the British withdrew from the region, and the British tool control of certain territories.