Born Elizabeth Thompson in Lausanne, she lived in France and then Italy, where she trained in art, before coming to England. She exhibited at the RA from 1873, and specialised in oil paintings of military subjects and other equestrian subjects. Her painting Roll Call was a great success at the 1874 Summer Exhibition, and was bought by Queen Victoria. Her Academy picture the following year, Quatre Bras, was described by John Ruskin as 'the first, fine Pre-Raphaelite picture of battle we have had'. Later, in discussing her picture Scotland for Ever, Ruskin again classified her painting style as Pre-Raphaelite, because of 'her resolution to paint things as they really are, or were, and not as they might be poetically fancied to be'. That picture became the first in the permanent collection of Leeds City art gallery. Her marriage to Major (later General) William Butler was ideal from her art point of view, as she was able to accompany him on his military campaigns and paint more battle pictures in Egypt and South Africa.
Butler also did some black and white illustration, including of poems by her sister, Alice Meynell, and of works by Thackeray. In her later life she lived in Ireland, her husband's home country, and showed pictures at the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1892.
Works by Butler are in the collection of the National Army Museum, London. Listed for the Connaught Rangers: Recruiting in Ireland is at Bury Art Gallery.Two pictures were acquired early on by the Melbourne Art Gallery, Australia (including Quatre Bras), and the National Gallery of Victoria, Australian galleries also possesses work by Butler (see Australian art and Britain).