Mildred Anne Butler found inspiration for her delicate watercolors in the world surrounding her elegant 18th century house at Kilmurry, near Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, where she was born in 1858. Around her were the fields, woodlands, ponds and the river which made up the 350-acre family estate which remained her home throughout her life. Daughter of an army officer, she was the grand-niece of Simon Butler, first President of the United Irishmen, who had been prominent in the movement for Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform. In studying art in London and becoming an artist, Mildred Anne Butler was following a path taken by numerous Irish gentlewomen of her generation, considered one of the few respectable occupations which educated upper-class women could take up.
Ms. Butler had an interest capturing rural life through the seasons. In the winter she painted the leafless trees and the ducks on the pond by her house. In the spring she painted the wild-fowl on the river as well as the sheep with their lambs in the field. During the summer she created delightful watercolors of the haymakers at Kilmurry mowing with horses and then piling the hay in cocks and ricks. One of her most beautiful works was of wisteria and other blossoms in a soft mass of color as she found them on the walls and windows of Kilmurry. She recorded autum's harvest-time, the old steam-driven thresher at work. Her sister, Isabel, who she called Issy, was the subject of some of her works.
Despite the fact that Mildred Anne came from a family background where she did not need to earn her living, she was obviously very capable of doing so from her paintings. Besides selling her watercolors in Ireland, there were many English collectors ready to buy her works through London's Royal Watercolour Society, which commissioned a number of cattle, birds and rural scenes from her. Lady Cadogan, the Vicereine in Dublin, selected two watercolors for presentation to the Princess of Wales. Queen Mary bought a watercolor from her, and in 1922, Mildred painted a tiny picture of crows for Queen Mary's doll's house at Windsor. She was elected an Associate of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1896, but only became a full member many years later in 1937, four years before her death.
In 1980, some 400 watercolors, drawings an sketches, together with notes, letters and diaries were discovered, as she had left them in her studio in Kilmurray. Some were sold in Ireland and others at a studio sale at Christie's in London. The National Gallery of Ireland purchased seven very fine watercolors for its permanent collection.
Now, a hundred years after they were painted we have a perfect record of rural life through the eyes of this great Edwardian lady - a woman walking in a village street carrying a bucket of water, washerwomen scrubbing clothes on washboards by a stream, a cockerel greeting the early morning outside a humble cottage door.
Photos of Ms. Butler and some of her charming pictures appeared in the July-August 1988 issue of "Ireland of the Welcomes."