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Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Sir Frederic William Burton (1816-1900), Watercolour painter and Director of the National Gallery

Painter, and Director of the National Gallery; born 8 April 1816, in Co. Clare, Ireland. Studied privately in Dublin; exh. Royal Hibernian Academy 1832–61; toured Connemara, Aran Islands and Bavaria, where he then became curator of royal collection 1851–6; from 1858 lived in London where he was elected to the Old Water Colour Society; his portraits of Helena Faucit and George Eliot (NPG 669) are among his best-known works; in 1874 exchanged painting for administration when appointed to the National Gallery, where he made some notable acquisitions, including Leonardo’s Madonna of the Rocks; knighted 1884, retired 1894; died 16 March 1900, in Kensington; buried in Dublin.

‘Burton’s handsome features, his peculiar distinction of manner, and great intelligence gave him [in youth] a distinguished place in Dublin society.’ [1] In later years, ‘proud reserve was the dominant note of his character’. [2] According to one obituary, ‘In spite of the fact that his right arm and hand were rendered useless by an accident in childhood, his bearing was distinguished and dignified, while his grand head, of the purest Greek type, was an index of the noble nature within.’ [3] Although ‘few had greater charm in society and none formed more sincere and lasting friendships, yet he was a reticent man and loved solitude’. [4] To W.G. Strickland, he was also ‘often abrupt in his manner and impatient with strangers’. [5] To Augusta Gregory, he was ‘the most fiery and independent of [NG] Directors’. [6]

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) Martin 1901.
2) The Times, 27 Mar. 1900.
3) MA, 1900, p.332. It is possible that this account was written by W.G. Strickland.
4) MA, 1900, p.331.
5) Strickland 1913, p.135.
6) A. Gregory, The Leader, 8 Dec. 1900.

Referencesback to top

Anon 1912
Anon., ‘The Fine Arts in Ireland’, Connoisseur, October 1912, pp.97, 98.

Beraldi 1885–92
Beraldi, H., Les Graveurs du XIXe siècle: Guide de l’amateur d’estampes modernes, 12 vols, Paris, 1885–92.

Bilbey & Trusted 2002
Bilbey, D., and M. Trusted, British Sculpture 1470–2000: A Concise Catalogue of the Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2002.

Bourke 1987
Bourke, M., Painting in Focus: The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child, touring exh. cat., Dublin, 1987; see also M. Bourke, ‘The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child’, GPA Irish Arts Review Yearbook 5, 1988, pp.190–96.

Bourke 1993
Bourke, M., ‘Frederic William Burton: Painter and Antiquarian’, Eire-Ireland Journal of Irish Studies, Fall 1993, pp.45–60.

Caffrey 2004
Caffrey, P., ‘Burton, Sir Frederic William (1816–1900)’, ODNB, Oxford, online ed., September 2004.

Cowell 1975
Cowell, F. R., The Athenaeum: club and social life in London, 1824-1974, London 1975.

Dublin 1964
National Gallery of Ireland, Concise Catalogue of the Oil Paintings, Dublin, 1964.

Holmes & Baker 1924
Holmes, C., and C.H.C. Baker, The Making of the National Gallery 1824–1924, London, 1924.

Le Harivel 1983
Le Harivel, A., comp., National Gallery of Ireland: Illustrated Summary Catalogue of Drawings, Watercolours and Miniatures, Dublin, 1983.

Le Harivel & Dillon 1988
Le Harivel, A., and S. Dillon, National Gallery of Ireland: Illustrated Summary Catalogue of Prints and Sculpture, Dublin, 1988.

Maas 1984
Maas, J., The Victorian Art World in Photographs, London, 1984.

Martin 1901
Martin, T., ‘Burton, Sir Frederic William (1816–1900)’, DNB, London, 1901.

Noakes 1978
Noakes, A., William Frith: Extraordinary Victorian Painter, London, 1978.

Potterton 1974
Potterton, H., ‘A Director with Discrimination’, Country Life, 9 May 1974, pp.1140–41.

Stewart 1984
Stewart, A., Fifty Irish Portraits, Dublin, 1984.

Stocker 1988
Stocker, M., Royalist and Realist: The Life and Work of Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, New York and London, 1988.

Strickland 1913
Strickland, W.G., A Dictionary of Irish Artists, 2 vols, Dublin and London, 1913.

Swanson 1977
Swanson, V.G., Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema: Painter of the Victorian Vision of the Ancient World, London, 1977.

Wynne 1975
Wynne, M., National Gallery of Ireland: Catalogue of Sculptors, Dublin, 1975.