Sir Frederick William Burton, Water-colour Painter

(b. 1816, d. 1900)

Water-colour Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Portrait, as a young man. Picture by George F. Mulvany, R.H.A., in National Gallery of Ireland.

Was born on 8th April, 1816, at Corofin House, Co. Clare, the third son of Samuel Frederick Burton (q.v.) and his wife, Hannah Mallet. At an early age he displayed a great love of art and received elementary instruction in drawing from the Brocas brothers in Dublin. George Petrie, with whom he became acquainted and whose friendship he enjoyed through life, influenced for a time his artistic work; but even in his earlier drawings Burton showed a perception and a sense of colour much beyond Petrie's limited range. He made rapid progress in his art, and acquired distinction as a painter of miniatures and water-colour portraits which were distinguished by faithfulness of expression and carefulness and beauty in execution. His miniatures were painted generally on large sheets of ivory and were finely modelled, boldly painted and rich in colour. In 1837, at the age of twenty-one, he exhibited three portraits in the Royal Hibernian Academy, and on the 27th May of that year he was elected an Associate. Two years later, on the 1st of February, 1839, he was elected a Member. He continued to exhibit regularly down to 1854, and afterwards when he had taken up his residence in London. He confined himself solely to water-colour and to chalk, never exhibiting or painting works in oil.

His skill in portraiture kept him fully occupied, nearly everyone of note in Dublin sat to him, and every year showed an advance in his art, not only in portraiture but in subject pictures. His drawing of "A Jewish Rabbi," exhibited in 1839, "The Blind Girl at the Holy Well," in 1840, and "A Scene from the two Foscari," in 1842, showed what he could do in a larger field of art. In 1842 he sent to the Royal Academy in London two of his best known works, "The Arran Fisherman's Drowned Child"—now in the National Gallery of Ireland—and "A Connaught Toilette." These were followed by his "Portrait of Miss Helen Faucit," in 1849, and that of "George Eliot," in 1867. He exhibited once again, and for the last time, in the Academy in 1874.

During this period in Dublin he paid occasional visits to Germany, and in 1844 he made a number of copies of pictures for the King of Bavaria. Towards the end of 1851 he left Dublin for Germany, intending to return in two years; but he prolonged his stay for five years. Making Munich his headquarters he wandered through Germany, visiting the forests of Franconia, the mountains of the Tyrol, the old towns of Nuremberg and Bamberg and the villages of Muggendorf and Wohlm, making innumerable sketches and studies of landscape, figures and costume for future use. From these he completed a number of elaborate and carefully finished drawings which he exhibited in London during his annual visits.

The most important of these were his "Peasantry of Franconia waiting for Confession," a composition of deep feeling and fine colour, and "Franconian Pilgrims at Bamberg Cathedral," both exhibited at the Old Water-colour Society in 1855; "Faust's first sight of Margaret," exhibited in 1857; "The Widow of Wöhlm," in 1859, of which the "Times" (May 7, 1859) wrote "No early master, not Hemling or Van Eyck, not Martin Schon, Cranach or Holbein, ever painted a more individual physiognomy more conscientiously than Mr. Burton has painted this widow, and, with all the old master's care, the modern draughtsman has immeasurably more refinement than any of them—that true refinement which is compatible with the most accurate rendering of peasant life."

Chalk drawing by Himself; in National Gallery of Ireland.

These and other works at once placed Burton at the head of the figure painters of the Society, and in 1855, the first year in which he exhibited, he was elected an Associate, and in the following year a Member, of the Old Water-colour Society. In 1869 he resigned his membership in sympathy with Frederick Taylor, the President, who withdrew owing to a difference regarding the exhibition of a nude figure; but his connection was renewed some years later when, in 1886, he was made an Honorary Member. Yearly until his resignation his drawings formed a conspicuous feature in the Society's exhibitions; and such works as "Yelitza," 1862, "Iostephane," 1863, "Hellelil and Hildebrand," 1864, and "Cassandra Fedele," 1869, added to his reputation.

He worked slowly, partly on account of his desire to bring his drawings to the highest point of finish, and partly from a serious affection of his eyes which made continued work impossible. He painted with his left hand owing to an accident during childhood which rendered his right hand and arm useless. His drawings were distinguished by a depth and sincerity of feeling, a refinement and pervading sense of beauty with a luminous strength of colour and accuracy of drawing which marked him as an original and highly accomplished artist. His works were eagerly sought for and brought high prices, not only at the time they were exhibited but afterwards when brought into the auction-room. "Cassandra Fedele" was sold at Christie's in 1874 for £525; "La Romanina," in 1875, for £598; "Yelitza," in 1875, for £525; and "Faust's first sight of Margaret" in 1876 for £630. Burton was only an occasional exhibitor at the Royal Academy, sending works there in 1842, 1849, 1850, 1867 and 1874. His chief contributions were "The Arran Fisherman's Drowned Child," and "A Connemara Toilette" in 1842, "Portrait of Helen Faucit" in 1849, and Portraits of "George Eliot" in 1867 and "Mrs. George Smith" in 1874.

During his early days in Ireland his intimacy with George Petrie, Bishop Graves, Dr. Todd, Lord Dunraven, and Samuel Ferguson aroused in him an interest in historical and archaeological studies; he was associated with them on the Council of the Royal Irish Academy and its Committee of Antiquities, and was one of the founders of the Archaeological Society of Ireland. In 1863 he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London. Always a serious student of art and art history, he made a special study of the old masters during his seven years' residence in Germany, and went deeply into the history of German art. He afterwards extended his studies, visiting the chief Galleries in Europe. His training in Ireland prepared him for his researches into the past, and he accumulated a knowledge of the history of art and of the works of the great painters which, in his time at least, was unequalled. To his friends, therefore, who knew of his wide knowledge and sound judgment, it came as no surprise when in March, 1874, Mr. Gladstone appointed him Director of the National Gallery in succession to Sir William Boxall; an appointment which, though considered by the public as somewhat of a leap in the dark, was destined to be amply justified.

As an artist he had arrived at the fullness of his art, and the acceptance of this post, which to him meant the concentration of his conscientious and sensitive nature upon his new work, was an act of self-renunciation. He never painted again, and did not even finish his fine drawing of "A Venetian Lady," upon which he was engaged. This work, as he left it, is in the National Gallery of Ireland. During his twenty years tenure of the Directorship he increased the National collection by many of its most important works, and by his extensive knowledge, taste and judgment raised it to the highest place among the great Galleries of the world. Soon after entering upon his duties he acquired at an expenditure of £10,528 at the Barker sale first-rate examples of Cosimo Tura, Crivelli, Piero della Francesca, Botticelli, and other masters, and in 1876 secured for the small sum of £5,000 four fine pictures from the Casa Fernaroli at Brescia.

Sir Frederick William Burton, R.H.A. Photograph.

In 1880 he acquired Lord Suffolk's Leonardo, the "Madonna among Rocks," for £9,000, and in 1882 the fine series of "The Senses," by Gonzalez Coques for £910, and the important altar-piece by Ercole di Giulio Grandi for £2,070. At the Hamilton sale he secured thirteen pictures at an expenditure of about £24,000. Other important acquisitions were the Duke of Marlborough's "Samson and Delilah" by Mantegna, and "The Assumption" by Matteo di Giovanni; and from the Leigh Court collection a Landscape by Poussin and Hogarth's "Shrimp Girl." He added the "Ansidei Madonna" and Van Dyck's "Charles I" to the National Collection, both from Blenheim, and in 1890 the three great pictures from Longford Castle.

He was knighted in 1884, and received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the University of Dublin. After twenty years' tenure of the Directorship, which he filled with such efficiency and dignity, he retired in 1894. In his retirement he lived quietly in his house at Kensington. He never married, but devoted himself to the care and up-bringing of the orphan family of his brother, the Revd. Robert Burton of Borris, who had died young. Dignified in his bearing and with great charm of manner in the society he cared for, he was yet a reticent man, and often abrupt in his manner and impatient with strangers. But to his friends his fine nature was known, and he formed many sincere and lasting friendships. He died in his house 43 Argyle Road, Kensington, on the 16th March, 1900.

A few months after his death an exhibition of his works was held in the National Gallery of Ireland. One hundred and four drawings were shown, in which his development, from his beginnings in Ireland as a portrait draughtsman to that period of consummate achievement which was cut short by his appointment to the National Gallery, could be traced. The collection included miniatures, water-colour and chalk portraits, together with many of those exquisite studies of drapery which display an artistic faculty akin to that of the Florentines of the fifteenth century, and a few of those imaginative creations, beautiful in colour and design, which marked the last few years of their author's devotion to his easel. A sale of his drawings was held at Christie's on 21st June, 1901.

In the National Gallery of Ireland are three portraits of him—one, as a young man, by G. F. Mulvany; one in middle life, by H. T. Wells, and a chalk drawing by himself. A good likeness, from a photograph taken in his latter years, appeared in the "Art Journal"; a terra-cotta bust by Sir Edgar Boehm was in the Royal Academy in 1880.

Portrait of Himself. Head, nearly life-size, in pencil. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

A Chief Rabbi blessing the Children of a Polish Jew. R.H.A., 1838; "one of the redeeming pictures of the present exhibition" ("E vening Mail," 25th July, 1838). Bought by Mrs. Johnston for thirty guineas. Lent to Dublin Exhibition, 1872, by Rev. R. Johnston.

The Blind Girl at the Holy Well; a scene in the West of Ireland. [Miss Cleland, Green Field, Hawkhurst, Kent.] R.H.A., 1840; engraved by H. T. Ryall, for the R. I. Art Union, 1840. Belonged to the late Lt.-Gen. Sir George D'Aguilar, who lent it to the Dublin Exhibition of 1853. A Copy of this drawing, in oils, has been erroneously represented as the original.

A Connaught Toilette; Connemara girls on their way to market. R.H.A., 1841; R.A., 1842. Purchased for £168 by the R. I. Art Union, and won as a prize by Edward Wright, 6 Blessington Street, Dublin.

The Connemara Toilette. R.H.A., 1854. Belonged to L. Wright, LL.D., in 1864.

Scene from the two Foscari. R.H.A., 1842. Bought by Earl De Grey for forty-five guineas.

The Arran Fisherman's Drowned Child, [National Gallery of Ireland.] R.H.A., 1841; R.A., 1842. Engraved for the R. I. Art Union in 1843, by F. Bacon.

Una. R.H.A., 1842.

Alley Joyce, a sketch in the Joyce country. [Lady Gregory, Coole Park, County Galway.] R.H.A., 1851.

Peggy Wallis. R.H.A., 1851.

The Twelve Pins near Clifden, R.H.A., 1851.

Sunset. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

George James Allman, F.R.C.S.I. Chalk drawing. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Signor Berretini. Miniature. [Miss Callwell, 1900.]

Mrs. Robert Borrowes, of Giltown. [Mrs. Roche, 15 Herbert Street, Dublin, 1901.] R.H.A., 1848.

Miss Callwell. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Dr. Richard Carmichael. Engraved by E. Finden for the "Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science," February, 1851.

Mrs. Roe Clarke. Miniature. [Dr. C. E. Fitzgerald, Upper Merrion Street, Dublin.]

Lady Fanny Cole. Drawn in 1841.

Paddy Conneely, a Galway Piper. [National Gallery of Ireland.] R.H.A., 1841; engraved in "The Irish Penny Journal" for October 3rd, 1840.

Thomas Davis. Two pencil sketches. [National Gallery of Ireland.] One was lithographed by J. S. Templeton.

George Eliot. Chalks. [National Portrait Gallery.] R.A., 1867. Etched by P. Rajon.

Mrs. Conyngham Ellis. [National Gallery of Ireland.] Drawn in 1845.

Helen Faucit, afterwards Lady Martin, as Antigone. [National Gallery of Ireland.] Bequeathed to the Gallery by Miss Margaret Stokes.

Helen Faucit. A sketch in Crayons. R.A., 1849; Cork, 1852.

Helen Faucit. R.H.A., 1845. Belonged to Sir Theodore Martin.

Sir Samuel Ferguson. Chalk drawing. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Sir Samuel Ferguson and Eugene O'Curry, Pencil sketch. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

James Ferrier. [Mrs. Keene, Palmerston Road, Dublin, 1901.]

Mrs. Ferrier. [Mrs. Keene, Palmerston Road, Dublin, 1901.]

Lady Gore-Booth and daughters. [Sir Josslyn Gore-Booth, Bart., Lissadell, Sligo.] R.H.A., 1845.

R. Molesworth Green. R.H.A., 1851.

Children of Rev. W. N. Guinness of Ardcotta. R.H. A., 1843.

William Henry Harvey, botanist. Chalk drawing. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Mrs. Thomas Hutton. [Mrs. Maxwell Hutton, 118 Summer Hill, Dublin.]

James McCullagh, mathematician. Chalk drawing. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

John Mallett. R.H.A., 1838.

Sir Henry Marsh. R.H.A., 1843. Engraved in mezzotint, by G. Sanders.

O'Curry—See Ferguson.

Rev. J. G. Swift MacNeill. Miniature. [J. G. Swift MacNeill, M.P., Pembroke Road.]

Mrs. J. G. Swift MacNeill. Miniature. [J. G. Swift MacNeill, M.P., Pembroke Road.]

Lady Elizabeth Monck. Drawn in 1842.

Harriet O'Brien. [Earl of Inchiquin.]

Charlotte O'Brien. Drawn in 1840.

Mary, Lady O'Brien. Drawn in 1840.

Sir Lucius O'Brien. R.H.A., 1840.

Miss Palliser. [Captain Gerald Lenox Conyngham, 1900.]

Miss Parker. Miniature. [Mrs. Keene, 14 Palmerston Park, Dublin, 1900.]

Baron Pennefather. R.H.A., 1848. Lithographed by J. H. Lynch.

Miss Pennefather. Drawn in 1845.

Mrs. Richard Perrin. Miniature. [Mrs. Richard Perrin, Morehampton Road, Dublin, 1900.]

Hon. Mervyn Wingfield, afterwards 7th Viscount Powerscourt. [Viscount Powerscourt.]

Mabel, Viscountess Powerscourt. Drawn in 1845. Lithographed by T. H. Maguire.

Professor John Purser, Queen's College, Belfast. [Professor Purser, 1900.]

Frances, Countess of Rathdowne. Drawn in 1840.

John Robinson, organist of St. Patrick's. Miniature. [Revd. S. F. H. Robinson.]

Maria, Countess of Roden. Drawn in 1848.

Dr. Aquila Smith; sketched in 1843; etched by J. Kirkwood as frontispiece to Richard Sainthill's "Olla Podrida." Vol. ii, 1853.

Charlotte Smith, mother of W. Smith O'Brien. [Earl of Inchiquin.]

Mrs. George Smith. R.A., 1874.

William Stokes, M.D. Chalk. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Sir E. B. Sugden, Lord Chancellor. R.H.A., 1846.

Miss Meadows Taylor. Lent to Dublin Ex., 1865, by Captain Meadows Taylor.

Charles Torrens, Royal Artillery. R.H.A., 1841.

Lt.-Col. Torrens, Grenadier Guards. R.H.A., 1841.

Lady Torrens. Drawn in 1840.

Mrs. Harry Tweedy. Miniature. [Miss Tweedy, 1901.]

Design for the Frontispiece for "The Spirit of the Nation." Engraved by Mrs. Millard (q.v.). The authorship of this beautiful design was kept secret, and was known only to Thomas Davis and Charles Gavan Duffy. The latter disclosed the name of the artist to the Editor of the "Magazine of Art" with permission to make it known.

Lithographs, drawn by himself, as illustrations to his brother, Revd. R. N. Burton's "History of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham," 1843.

Landscape in the West of Ireland. Water-colour. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Landscape in West of Ireland. Black and white chalk. [W. G. Strickland.]

Coast View, West of Ireland. Water-colour. [W. G. Strickland.]

Old Altar at Aranmore. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

A Connemara Stream. [Lady Gregory, Coole Park, County Galway.]

A Connemara Valley. [Lady Gregory, Coole Park, County Galway.]

Honor Henry. [Lady Gregory, Coole Park, County Galway.]

A Connemara Peasant Girl. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Study of a Head. Coloured Chalks. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Head of a Child. Red Chalk. [W. G. Strickland.]

View in the Meadow near Stratford. Soc. B.A., 1855.

Franciscan Pilgrims at Bamberg Cathedral. O.W.C. Soc., 1855.

Peasantry of Upper Franconia waiting for Confession. O.W.C. Soc., 1855; Ex-Manchester 1857 and 1887, by Edward Schunck.

Peasants of Upper Franconia waiting for Confession. A small version. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Young Girl of Ober Franken, O.W.C. Soc. Winter Ex., 1862.

Beggars of Ober Franken. O.W.C. Soc., 1856; Ex. Manchester, 1857, by T. Jenkin.

In the Wiesenthal, Ober Franken. O.W.C. Soc. Winter Ex., 1862.

Castle Gate in Ober Franken. O.W.C. Soc. Winter Ex., 1864.

Statue of St. Stephen, Bamberg Cathedral. O.W.C. Soc. Winter Ex., 1862.

A Rocky Valley in the Tyrol. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

A Bavarian Peasant Girl. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

At Schwartz in Inn Valley. O.W.C. Soc. Winter Ex., 1864.

The Church at Rothenburg. O.W.C. Soc Winter Ex., 1864.

A Fruit Seller. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Faust's First Sight of Marguerite. O.W.C. Soc., 1857. Christies, 1876, for £630. Afterwards belonged to the late Sir Theodore Martin.

Morning near Starnberg, Upper Bavaria. O.W.C. Soc., 1859.

In St. Eucharius Chapel, Nuremberg. O.W.C. Soc., 1859, and Winter Ex., 1862. Sold at the Artists' Sale in 1901.

A German Interior. O.W.C. Soc., 1862.

The Widow of Wöhlm. O.W.C. Soc., 1859; Dublin Ex., 1865, by Miss Robinson.

Tyrolese Boys Trapping Birds. O.W.C. Soc., 1859. Christie's, 1876, £262.

A Tree-stump, study for above. [Henry B. Burton, 59 Upper Leeson Street, Dublin.]

Divina Commedia. O.W.C. Soc. Winter Ex., 1762.

Woman of Samaria. A Sketch. O.W.C. Soc. Winter Ex., 1863.

Disputation of Body and Soul. O.W.C. Soc. Winter Ex., 1862.

Sybil. A Sketch. O.W.C. Soc., Winter Ex., 1863.

Freshly pulled Maize. [National Gallery of Ireland.] O.W.C. Soc., Winter Ex., 1862.

Dead Giraffe. O.W.C. Soc., Winter Ex., 1862.

The Virgin's Day; Girl with a Lily. Christie's, Rucker Sale, 1874, £430. The artist was paid 30 guineas for this drawing.

The Young Scholar. Christie's, 1877, J. Knowles collection, bought in; Christie's, 1880, £126.

The Dead Knight. Belonged to late Sir Theodore Martin.

La Romanina. Sir W. C. Quilter's Sale, Christie's, 1875, £598.

The Rendezvous. Sir W. C. Quilter's Sale, Christie's, 1875, £178.

Design for the Gold Fibula, presented to Miss Helen Faucit. [H. B. Burton, 59 Up. Leeson Street, Dublin.] O.W.C. Soc., Winter Ex., 1893. The fibula, or brooch, itself is in the National Museum.

A Pair of Ducks. O.W.C. Soc., 1860. Christie's, Farnworth Sale, 1874, £63.

A.D., 1660; The Old Ironside. O. W. C. Soc., 1861.

The Wife of Hassan Aga. O.W.C. Soc., 1862.

Yelitza. O. W. C. Soc., 1862; W. Leaf, Christie's, 1875; S. Addington, Christie's, 1886; J. Vavasseur, Christie's, 1910.

L'Ecuyer. O.W.C. Soc., 1864; Manchester, 1887; Sir John Pender's sale, Christie's, 1897; Sir Bruce M. Seton's sale, Christie's, March, 1912.

The Child Miranda. O.W.C. Soc., 1864.

La Marchesa. O.W.C. Soc., 1865. Sir W. Quilter's sale, Christie's, 1875, £336.

Weary. O.W.C. Soc., 1867.

Shireen. O.W.C. Soc., 1867; Manchester, 1887.

A Neapolitan Girl. Christie's, 1875, £462.

The Apple Girl. Christie's, Rucker sale, 1874, £225.

Interior of a Church, a study. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

A Study of Yellow Drapery. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Cassandra Fedele. [Municipal Gallery, Dublin.] O.W.C. Soc., 1869; John Heugh sale, Christie's, 1874 (£525). Ex. Burlington House, 1906; Lord Armstrong's sale, Christie's, June, 1910.

Cassandra Fedele. Cartoon in Black Chalk. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Iostephane. [Sir William Paget Bowman, Bart. Toldwynds Dorking.] O.W.C. Soc., 1863.

Helelil and Hildebrand, or the meeting on the Turret Stair. [National Gallery of Ireland.] O. W. C. Soc., 1864; Dublin Ex., 1865, by J. W. Knight; collection of J. W. Knowles, Manchester, Christie's, 1877 (£666 15s.); Grant Morris sale, 1898, purchased by Miss Margaret Stokes, who bequeathed it to the National Gallery of Ireland. The subject was suggested by an old Danish ballad translated by Whitley Stokes, and published in "Fraser's Magazine" in 1855.

Helelil and Hildebrand, Cartoon in Black Chalk; a sketch for the finished drawing, [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Head of the Virgin; from the picture by Leonardo da Vinci, "the Virgin of the Rocks," in the National Gallery; Chalk. [Mrs. Ingram Bywater, 6 Norham Gardens, Oxford, 1900.]

A Venetian Lady. [National Gallery of Ireland.] This drawing was left unfinished when the artist was appointed Director of the National Gallery.

An Albanian. [National Gallery of Ireland.] Unfinished drawing.

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