Born in 1949 in Rochdale, Lancashire, Butterworth initially studied locally, from 1966, at Rochdale School of Art. Following this, she completed her training at Maidstone College of Art and, later, the Royal College of Art, London, between 1971-74. She paints, draws and creates exquisitely detailed images of birds (mainly tropical—such as parrots and macaws) in glowing colour. Their plumage almost seems to convey the intense colours of their natural habitat—iridescent greens, shining blues. It is this beauty and quality of depiction that led the art historian and critic Ian Dunlop to declare her “without rival this century” (1993).
Butterworth frequently paints and draws from life—she has bred macaws herself and has captured their likeness with scientific accuracy. Indeed, she has regularly travelled to South America in order to depict her subject, studies supplemented by visits to natural history museums, where she researches the minutiae of birds’ anatomy.
Butterworth's first solo show came at the Angela Flowers Gallery, London, in 1975. Subsequent solo shows include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1985, and the Natural History Museum, London, in 2001. Her work has featured in group shows around the world, such as Tokyo, Caracas, and New York. Similarly, her drawings and prints are held in a diverse range of public and private collections in England, USA, Australia, Germany, Canada, Venezuela, and South Africa.
Elizabeth Butterworth is represented by the Redfern Gallery.