The Remnants of an Army by Lady Elizbeth Butler returned to the Somerset Military Museum this September. The painting belongs to the Tate Gallery and was recalled to Tate Britain in 2015 where it featured in Artist and Empire, a major exhibition of art associated with the British Empire from the 16th century to the present day. The exhibition, including the painting, later travelled to the National Gallery of Singapore.
Elizabeth Butler (1846-1933) achieved fame for her realistic depictions of war and its consequences. The Remnants of an Army is one of her best-known works.
The painting shows the moment in 1842 when Dr William Brydon arrived outside the fortress town of Jellalabad during the 1st Afghan War. He brought the terrible news that 17,000 British soldiers and camp followers had been massacred. They had been making their way back from Kabul to India. But they were attacked along the route despite a promise of safe passage from Akbar Khan, the Afghan tribal leader. Dr Brydon was one of very few survivors.
Soldiers of the 13th Light Infantry, the regiment which would later become the Somerset Light Infantry were then besieged in the fortress town of Jellalabad. After five months they broke out and defeated the Afghans in one of the most famous military operations of the Victorian age.
Find Out More
Join Curator of Military History Sam Astill for a Talk and Tea exploring the painting at The Museum of Somerset at 2.30 pm on 10 November (£5.)