One of my personal favorite pieces of art is a painting depicting the charge of the Royal Scots Greys, a British heavy cavalry regiment who earned fame for their heroic charge at the battle of Waterloo. This painting is called Scotland Forever! and was painted by Lady Butler in 1881.
The painting is an image that captures the viewers attention, being on the receiving end of a massive Calvary charge viewing men with sabers drawn and horses at full gallop it fills the viewer with both fear and wonder. Upon closer inspection the viewer can see the fear in the expression of both the horses and the men as they both face the possibility of death, the horses themselves unsure of the danger they are presented with as they look towards another for guidance. The men on horseback look past the viewer to a threat in the distance, but the horses themselves seem to look directly at the viewer, as if they are noticing you in their path for the first time.
In the critique I chose written by Aengus Dewar, he hones in on several key points, he focuses originally on Lady Butler’s life and works done before painting ‘Scotland Forever’ and uses them to contrast with the differences between her previous works and the one she made in Scotland Forever.
An anecdote about Lady Butlers inspiration to create this piece mentioned in the critique (and quite ironic given what this post is) is, “‘Scotland Forever’ is the most energetic of Elizabeth’s paintings. She tells us it was begun in a fit of annoyance. She had been to an exhibition of the ‘Aesthetes’. This was a group who prioritized Beauty in a way that was, in Elizabeth’s view, too trivial and decorative; a collective of pretentious twits producing pretty work that had no weight. She made her way around the show in a state of vexed exasperation until she could take no more. She stormed off to her studio, pinned up a 7ft length of butcher’s paper, and started hammering out a vigorous drawing that became the basis for the painting.”
one of the key details he chooses to focus on in his critique is how much closer to the action and battle this paining is compared to some of her other works such as ‘The Roll Call’ – 1874 or ‘Balaclava’ – 1876
The critique also mentions Butlers attention to detail in the painting, the streaks left in the sky of a cannonball shooting through a plume of smoke, the dust kicked up by the horses that would blind anyone not in front of the stampede, even the rows of freshly planted crops of the fields that just had a harvest and the location of the battle.
It does however critique a few minor issues in the painting, the fact that not all the soldiers would have worn that bright red uniform, or that the horses in the charge would have been mostly grey. Some of the gestures the men were making would not make sense in the context of the painting, small things that do not take away from the painting as a whole.
In Kant’s Second moment, Quantity, Kant explains that the object must be of universal pleasure while staying subjective to the individual, taste being a disinterested pleasure, all must view the object with pleasure. I argue that this piece ought to be considered art because of Kant’s second moment. Even with disinterest, without knowing the context the painting still exemplifies raw emotion, and an uncertainty that should grip the viewer.