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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Elizabeth Thompson Butler

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She loved to draw horses running, soldiers, and everything which showed animation and energy. Her educated parents had the good sense not to curb her in these perhaps unusual tastes for a girl. They saw the sure hand and broad thought of their child, and, no doubt, had expectations of her future fame.

At fifteen, as the family had removed to England, Elizabeth joined the South Kensington School of Design, and, later, took lessons in oil painting, for a year, of Mr. Standish. Thus from the years of five to sixteen she had studied drawing carefully, so that now she was ready to touch oil-painting for the first time. How few young ladies would have been willing to study drawing for eleven years, before trying to paint in oil!

The Thompson family now moved to Ventnor, in the Isle of Wight, staying for three years at Bonchurch, one of the loveliest places in the world. Ivy grows over walls and houses, roses and clematis bloom luxuriantly, and the balmy air and beautiful sea make the place as restful as it is beautiful. Here Elizabeth received lessons in water-color and landscape from Mr. Gray.

After another visit abroad the family returned to London, and the artist daughter attended the National Art School at South Kensington, studying in the life-class. The head master, Mr. Richard Burchett, saw her talent, and helped her in all ways possible.

Naturally anxious to test the world's opinion of her work, she sent some water-colors to the Society of British Artists for exhibition, and they were rejected. There is very little encouragement for beginners in any profession. However, "Bavarian Artillery going into Action" was exhibited at the Dudley Gallery, and received favorable notice from Mr. Tom Taylor, art critic of the Times.

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Between two long courses at South Kensington Elizabeth spent a summer in Florence and a winter at Rome, studying in both places. At Florence she entered the studio of Signor Guiseppe Bellucci, an eminent historical painter and consummate draughtsman, a fellow-student of Sir Frederick Leighton at the Academy.

Here the girlish student was intensely interested in her work. She rose early, before the other members of the family, taking her breakfast alone, that she might hasten to her beloved labor. "On the day when she did not work with him," says Mrs. Meynell, "she copied passages from the frescoes in the cloisters of the Annunziata, masterpieces of Andrea del Sarto and Franciabigio, making a special study of the drapery of the last-named painter. The sacristans of the old church--the most popular church in Florence--knew and welcomed the young English girl, who sat for hours so intently at her work in the cloister, unheeding the coming and going of the long procession of congregations passing through the gates.

"Her studies in the galleries were also full of delight and profit, though she made no other copies, and she was wont to say that of all the influences of the Florentine school which stood her in good stead in her after-work, that of Andrea del Sarto was the most valuable and the most important. The intense heat of a midsummer, which, day after day, showed a hundred degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, could not make her relax work, and her master, Florentine as he was, was obliged to beg her to spare him, at least for a week, if she would not spare herself. It was toward the end of October that artist and pupil parted, his confidence in her future being as unbounded as her gratitude for his admirable skill and minute carefulness."

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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