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Mildred Anne Butler
1858-1941

Meditation
1889


signed with the monogram and dated 89
watercolour
14 by 21in.

Provenance:
Acquired by the family of the present owner, circa 1920

An unusually large, impressive and fresh example of a classic subject in Mildred Anne Butler's reperoire, in its original frame and still in the possession of the family who acquired it in the early 20th century. On the face of it the subject is a simple one: a herd of cattle at peace in a Kilkenny pasture, revelling in a soft autumn afternoon. This kind of theme, however, is one which Butler explored with great tenacity, and it would be a mistake to assume that it is merely pretty or to fail to recognise how progressive her work was to her contemporaries.

Birds and animals were the major theme of her work: she lived throughout her life just outside Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, and her subjects were based very largely upon her observations during walks in the country around her home. The critic of the American magazine Hearth and Home described her habit of painting in the open air (an very rare one at the time) and remarked that �this gives an actuality and a freshness which can be acquired in no other way. Miss Butler�s landscape bears always the impress of truth�. Meditation amply bears this out.

It is sometimes easy to forget that Butler was an artistic pioneer of her time. She traveled to Brussels and Paris in the early 1880s to study painting, along with contemporaries such as Walter Osborne and Sir John Lavery, at a time when this was considered highly unorthodox in British art circles (the Royal Academy in London refused to show artists who painted in the �French style� and the young painters who did so had to form their own society in order to exhibit). It is hard now to take in the paintings such as Meditation, painted en plein air with the intention of capturing the immediacy and freshness of living landscape, was considered revolutionary by the art establishment and by critics of the day.

This perception changed over the course of the 1890s, and in 1896 Mildred Butler�s Morning Bath was acquired by the Tate Gallery: a rare honour for a watercolourist, let alone a woman. Her work also received extensive noble patronage (Britiain's Queen Mary was presented with pictures by her on several occasions), and was shown as far afield as the USA and Japan.

Despite all these plaudits and international exhibitions, it is clear that her heart remained at Kilmurry, the house in Thomastown in which she was born and lived all her life. She is capable, in her work, of attributing as much importance and dignity to a group of cattle in a Kilkenny field as another painter might give to a view of Venice or Athens. Cows interested her particularly, and remained a constant subject: it is clear that contemporary buyers appreciated the importance of her work, despite the seemingly simplicity of this subject-matter, and we should not be taken in by its modesty and thus under-rate it, as some modern critics do. Mediation is a major picture by an important and pioneering Irish painter.




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