The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Arty Fact

More about The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras

wbillingsley's picture


If you think that any war fought prior to the invention of the machine gun is not worth studying, and/or you are an American, then you probably have no idea what Quatre Bras is.

But don’t worry, I have done all the googling for you. Quatre Bras was the scene of the second to last battle of the Napoleonic Wars, a prequel to the famed Waterloo where Emperor Napoleon was brutally stomped by the British. It was not a particularly spectacular battle for either side, however this makes the attention to detail given by Elizabeth Thompson all the more impressive.

The first thing that stands out about this painting is the focus on the individual soldiers. You will notice that in similar war paintings, most of the attention is given to the fighting itself as opposed to the people who were doing the fighting. Moreover, if any attention is given to individuals on the depicted battlefield they are normally generals, like in The Death of General Wolfe. This care given to the everyday soldier is a signature quality of Elizabeth Thompson’s work, however there are other details here that demonstrate her consideration goes even deeper. The most significant aspect of the work is the formation that the men are in. The painting depicts the corner of an infantry square, which was a significant military movement during the era of pre-modern warfare. It consisted of two lines of men armed with bayonetts set up in a square formation. This allowed the soldiers to create a sort of mobile home base in the middle of a battlefield, as anyone injured would be able to retreat to the center of the square to receive medical treatment. These squares were typically used against cavalry assaults, and as you can see here, the men of the 28th Regiment are defending from such an attack.

What makes this all the more impressive is that Elizabeth Thompson was neither present at this battle, nor likely knew anyone who had survived it as this picture was done sixty years after the Battle of Quatre Bras. Elizabeth Thompson would, of course, never have been close to a battlefield as she was not related to any soldiers, and as a woman was barred from such places.

Instead, she opted to recreate these scenes in a study. Typically artists not knowing what something looked like resulted in works similar to Albrecht Dürer’s Haller Madonna, however Elizabeth was able to avoid such a tragedy. In the end she effectively did with paint what Steven Spielberg could only do with 70 million dollars of special effects. As such this arguably one of the most undervalued works of 'war art' in history.



  1. George, Katherine “PAINTING WAR, AND FIGHTING THE PATRIARCHY WHILE YOU'RE AT IT”, viewed on 08/24/2019
  2. McGeer, Eric “Infantry versus Cavalry : The Byzantine Response” 1988
  3. Website Contributor “Battle of Quatre Bras” 2019

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras (painting)

The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras is an oil painting on canvas from 1875, painted by Elizabeth Thompson (she became better known as Lady Butler after her marriage to William Butler in 1877). The painting is 97.2 centimeters (38.3 in) high and 216.2 centimeters (85.1 in) wide. It is in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.

Thompson based the painting on the account of the battle in a book written by Captain William Siborne, the History of the War in France and Belgium in 1815, first published in 1844. The painting portrays the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment of Foot, of the British Army, on 16 June 1815, at the Battle of Quatre Bras. The battle, part of the Waterloo Campaign of the Hundred Days, was just two days prior to the Battle of Waterloo. The regiment held off attacks from French cavalry at Quatre Bras. Thompson shows the regiment formed in a square in a field of rye, withstanding attacks, at approximately 17:00, from lancers and cuirassiers led by Marshal Ney.

Thompson went to great lengths to create models for her work. In July 1874, she arranged for 300 soldiers from the Royal Engineers to pose in a reconstruction of the square formation, and to fire their rifles, to recreate the smoky scene. Several of the soldiers also modelled in Thompson's studio. Thompson observed horses at Sanger's Circus and the Horse Guards riding school, as models for the French cavalry. She also arrange for a group of children to trample down a field of rye in Henley-on-Thames, to recreate the setting.

She had copies of the historic uniforms made by a government manufacturer in Pimlico. However, the shako she depicts the regiment wearing is incorrect. Whilst nearly all Regiments of Foot in the British Army had adopted the false fronted Belgic shako since 1812, so the replica uniforms were correct for a standard line regiment, the 28th Regiment continued to wear the older stovepipe shakos during the Hundred Days campaign. The older headwear can be seen clearly in William Barnes Wollen's painting: 28th Gloucester Regiment at Waterloo.

The heavy gold frame bears the inscription "Egypt" at the top, and "Quatre-Bras 1815" below.

The work was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1875, the year after Elizabeth Thompson exhibited her acclaimed The Roll Call. It was bought by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, in 1884.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras (painting).

Comments (3)

Kent Z

I like this one because Elizabeth Thompson has used great strategy to paint that; also, we can see how the situation is on the field.


I love the retelling of history that this painting provides. It is very well done.


Love Wyatt Billingsley’s way with words: ‘she effectively did with paint what Steven Spielberg could only do with 70 million dollars of special effects’. Exactly right.