The Irish watercolourist, Mildred Anne Butler, worked with a lightness of touch in order to portray scenes of nature and domesticity, which were often based both on life at her home in County Kilkenny and on her travels.
Mildred Anne Butler was born on 11 January 1858 at Kilmurry, a Georgian house near Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland. She was the youngest daughter of Captain Henry Butler and, through him, the great-granddaughter of Edmund Butler, 11th Viscount Mountgarret.
Butler probably gained her interest in painting from her father, who was an amateur artist. However, she left Ireland in order to undertake formal artistic training. She seems to have studied in London at Westminster School of Art in the early 1880s, before travelling on the Continent in 1885, to visit France, Switzerland and Italy. On her return to London, she studied under Paul Naftel alongside, or on the recommendation of her friend, Rose Barton.
From the late 1880s, Butler sent works from her home at Kilmurry to exhibitions in London, including those at the Society of Women Artists (1887-1935, for much of which she was a member), the Dudley Gallery (from 1888), the Royal Academy (1889-1902), the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours and the New Gallery.
She also exhibited in Ireland at the Watercolour Society of Ireland and the Belfast Art Society (becoming an honorary member of the latter in 1904).
Through the 1890s, Butler continued to develop as an artist. She spent a term in the London studio of the animal painter, Frank Calderon, and the summers of 1894 and 1895, studying in Newlyn, Cornwall, under Limerick-born Norman Garstin and Dublin-born Stanhope Forbes, in the company of her friend, May Guinness. Calderon influenced her subject matter, and the French-inspired Newlyn School her style.
Her confident use of watercolour led Butler to be elected an associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours in 1896, though full membership would be achieved only in 1937. Also in 1896, she scored a particular success with Morning Bath, showing doves at a pool, which she exhibited at the Royal Academy, and which was then bought by the trustees of the Chantrey Bequest for presentation to the Tate. She was the first woman to be honoured in this way. Other patrons included Queen Mary and Grand Duke of Hesse.
After the turn of the century, Butler continued to travel to find subject matter for her painting. From 1905, she made regular trips to Aix-les-Bains, the spa town in southeast France. Holding a joint show with Percy French at the New Dudley Gallery in 1907, she continued to exhibit until the 1930s, and was one of the first nine academicians to be elected to the Belfast Art Society, when it was renamed the Ulster Academy of Arts in 1930. She stopped painting as the result of arthritis.
Butler spent some time late in life in Wellington, New Zealand, but returned to Ireland, and died at home at Kilmurry on 11 October 1941.
Her work is represented in the collections of Ulster Museum (Belfast); and the National Gallery of Ireland (Dublin).
Further reading: Anne Crookshank, Mildred Anne Butler. 1858-1941, Dublin: Town House, 1992