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Sir Richard Francis Burton

17 of 24 portraits on display in Room 23 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sir Richard Francis Burton, by Frederic Leighton, Baron Leighton, 1872-1885 - NPG 1070 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir Richard Francis Burton

by Frederic Leighton, Baron Leighton
oil on canvas, 1872-1885
24 in. x 20 1/8 in. (610 mm x 510 mm) overall
Given by Mrs Augusta Matthews and Mrs Alexandra Sutherland Orr, by wish of the artist, the artist's sisters, 1896
Primary Collection
NPG 1070


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This austere, ponderous and intense image of one of the great explorers of Victorian England captures his slightly brutal character very effectively. The artist Frederic Leighton met Burton in 1869 while they were taking a cure at Vichy and they formed a firm friendship which lasted until Burton's death. On 26 April 1872, Burton began sitting for his portrait. According to Lady Burton, he was extraordinarily difficult about it, anxious that his necktie and pin might be omitted and pleading with the artist, 'Don't make me ugly, there's a good fellow.' Apparently the portrait was left unfinished when Burton departed for Trieste in October 1872 and it was not completed until 1875. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year, but it is possible that Burton did not like it, because Leighton kept it at his house in Kensington. He intended to leave it to the National Portrait Gallery, of which he was a Trustee, but forgot, so the then Director, Lionel Cust, arranged for it to be donated by Leighton's sisters.

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