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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Elizabeth Thompson Butler

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During her seven months in Rome she painted, in 1870, for an ecclesiastical art exhibition, opened by Pope Pius IX., in the cloisters of the Carthusian Monastery, the "Visitation of the Blessed Virgin to St. Elizabeth," and the picture gained honorable mention.

On her return to England the painting was offered to the Royal Academy and rejected. And what was worse still, a large hole had been torn in the canvas, in the sky of the picture. Had she not been very persevering, and believed in her heart that she had talent, perhaps she would not have dared to try again, but she had worked steadily for too many years to fail now. Those only win who can bear refusal a thousand times if need be.

The next year, being at the Isle of Wight, she sent another picture to the Academy, and it was rejected. Merit does not always win the first, nor the second, nor the third time. It must have been a little consolation to Elizabeth Thompson, to know that each year the judges were reminded that a person by that name lived, and was painting pictures!

The next year a subject from the Franco-Prussian War was taken, as that was fresh in the minds of the people. The title was "Missing." "Two French officers, old and young, both wounded, and with one wounded horse between them, have lost their way after a disastrous defeat; their names will appear in the sad roll as missing, and the manner of their death will never be known."

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The picture was received, but was "skyed," that is, placed so high that nobody could well see it. During this year she received a commission from a wealthy art patron to paint a picture. What should it be? A battle scene, because into that she could put her heart.

A studio was taken in London, and the "Roll-Call" (calling the roll after an engagement,--Crimea) was begun. She put life into the faces and the attitudes of the men, as she worked with eager heart and careful labor. In the spring of 1874 it was sent to the Royal Academy, with, we may suppose, not very enthusiastic hopes.

The stirring battle piece pleased the committee, and they cheered when it was received. Then it began to be talked at the clubs that a woman had painted a battle scene! Some had even heard that it was a great picture. When the Academy banquet was held, prior to the opening, the speeches of the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge, both gave high praise to the "Roll-Call."

Such an honor was unusual. Everybody was eager to see the painting. It was the talk at the clubs, on the railway trains, and on the crowded thoroughfares. All day long crowds gathered before it, a policeman keeping guard over the painting, that it be not injured by its eager admirers. The Queen sent for it, and it was carried, for a few hours, to Buckingham Palace, for her to gaze upon. So much was she pleased that she desired to purchase it, and the person who had ordered it gave way to Her Majesty. The copyright was bought for fifteen times the original sum agreed upon as its value, and a steel-plate engraving made from it at a cost of nearly ten thousand dollars. After thirty-five hundred impressions, the plate was destroyed, that there might be no inferior engravings of the picture. The "Roll-Call" was for some time retained by the Fine Art Society, where it was seen by a quarter of a million persons. Besides this, it was shown in all the large towns of England. It is now at Windsor Castle.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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