‘Scotland for Ever’ by Lady Elizabeth Butler seems to be an iconic painting, copied and cited by many as one of the greatest depictions of the Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo. It’s an impressive piece even when studied on a computer screen – the scarlet red of the jackets, the colours held aloft in the middle of the piece, the horses charging, and the swirls of musket fire that rise from the racing ranks.
Widely used during World War One as a propaganda piece, the painting is often associated with the call ‘Now, my boys, Scotland forever!’ – supposedly shouted as the Greys charged past the surrounding Highland Brigade.
By par chance I managed to stand in front of this fabulous artwork today. When visiting the Leeds Art Gallery I really had no idea what I would find, but there it was. On the far wall of a gallery dedicated to 18th/19th century pieces of all styles and topics – and it was by far the most striking work in the room.
The colours on the canvas are so much brighter; so much deeper and vivid than any copy of it can truly represent. You can admire the intricate details of the dust on the ground, the faces on the soldiers – not faces of joy or excitement, but terror, fear and sickness. The bugler looks takes on an ill-green tinge as he attempts to sound out the call and the hero at the forefront of the painting has a look of solid determination upon his face.
You can certainly see why many say you have to stand in front of the piece to understand its true significance. Only by looking at it up close can you appreciate the effort that must have gone into the painting. It is possible to hear the rumble of the ground as the horses charge at you, and a stirring – although it was more of a wave – of patriotism and sympathy with these gallant soldiers washes over you.
What a discovery! Not only is the piece an iconic depiction of Waterloo, but a gorgeous piece of artwork in its own right. And it’s here, in our very own city of Leeds. And I never knew about it until today. Let’s get the message out there!