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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Elizabeth Thompson Butler

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Goethe was one of her chosen friends. He said of her: "She has a most remarkable and, for a woman, really an unheard-of talent. No living painter excels her in dignity, or in the delicate taste with which she handles the pencil."

Miss Ellen C. Clayton, in her interesting volumes, English Female Artists, says, "No lady artist, from the days of Angelica Kauffman, ever created such a vivid interest as Elizabeth Thompson Butler. None had ever stepped into the front rank in so short a time, or had in England ever attained high celebrity at so early an age."

She was born in the Villa Clermont, Lausanne, Switzerland, a country beautiful enough to inspire artistic sentiments in all its inhabitants. Her father, Thomas James Thompson, a man of great culture and refinement, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, was a warm friend of Charles Dickens, Lord Lytton, and their literary associates. Somewhat frail in health, he travelled much of the time, collecting pictures, of which he was extremely fond, and studying with the eye of an artist the beauties of each country, whether America, Italy, or France.

His first wife died early, leaving one son and daughter. The second wife was an enthusiastic, artistic girl, especially musical, a friend of Dickens, and every way fitted to be the intelligent companion of her husband.

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After the birth of Elizabeth, the family resided in various parts of Southern Europe. Now they lived, says Mrs. Alice Meynell, her only sister, in the January, 1883, St. Nicholas, "within sight of the snow-capped peaks of the Apennines, in an old palace, the Villa de Franchi, immediately overlooking the Mediterranean, with olive-clad hills at the back; on the left, the great promontory of Porto Fino; on the right, the Bay of Genoa, some twelve miles away, and the long line of the Apennines sloping down into the sea. The palace garden descended, terrace by terrace, to the rocks, being, indeed, less a garden than what is called a villa in the Liguria, and a podere in Tuscany,--a fascinating mixture of vine, olive, maize, flowers, and corn. A fountain in marble, lined with maiden-hair, played at the junction of each flight of steps. A great billiard-room on the first floor, hung with Chinese designs, was Elizabeth Thompson's first school-room; and there Charles Dickens, upon one of his Italian visits, burst in upon a lesson in multiplication.

"The two children never went to school, and had no other teacher than their father,--except their mother for music, and the usual professors for 'accomplishments' in later years. And whether living happily in their beautiful Genoese home, or farther north among the picturesque Italian lakes, or in Switzerland, or among the Kentish hop-gardens and the parks of Surrey, Elizabeth's one central occupation of drawing was never abandoned,--literally not for a day."

She was a close observer of nature, and especially fond of animals. When not out of doors sketching landscapes, she would sit in the house and draw, while her father read to her, as he believed the two things could be carried on beneficially.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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