Sir Frederick William Burton
Irish, 1816 - 1900
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Irish painter and museum director. He was taught painting by the Brocas brothers in Dublin and, like them, he specialized in watercolours. He soon established himself as a portrait painter, and he had many notable sitters in Dublin. He made a charming portrait of Helen Faucit as Antigone (Dublin, N.G.) in 1849 and also designed the gold and emerald fibula (Dublin, N. Mus.) presented to her by a group of Dublin gentlemen. Burton became friendly with George Petrie, who encouraged his interest in Irish life and antiquities, which gave rise to such pictures as the Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child (1841; Dublin, N.G.). This work combines careful observation of the costume and habits of the people of the west of Ireland with dramatic composition and gestures derived less from life than from the Old Masters. Like many of his other subject-pictures in watercolour, it is very densely and richly painted. Burton was elected Royal Hibernian Academician in 1839 at the age of 23. In 1851 he settled in Munich, from where he made sketching trips and visits to the German art galleries. He subsequently settled in London, where he continued to devote himself to the study of art history and to portrait painting. His portrait of George Eliot (London, N.P.G.) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1867.
From 1874 to 1894 Burton was Director of the National Gallery in London and gave up painting completely. His appointment was an unexpected one, but his scholarship, discrimination and wide experience of European painting equipped him well for the job. He made sound purchases over a remarkably wide range; he bought Italian Renaissance works, including Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks, Piero della Francesca’s Nativity and Raphael’s Ansidei Madonna (Madonna and Child with SS John the Baptist and Nicholas of Bari), but he also bought 18th-century Italian works, the gallery’s first painting by Vermeer, Young Woman Standing at a Virginal, and Velázquez’s Philip IV in Brown and Silver (all London, N.G.).
A selection of art exhibitions which have featured this