F.W. Burton 1816 - 1900

Detail from a portrait photograph of Frederic William Burton

Portrait photograph of Frederic William Burton (1816-1900), [c.1843]

Presented by Sheila Beere, 1987
Frederic William Burton Archive Collection, Centre for the Study of Irish Art, NGI


Born in Co. Wicklow, Frederic William Burton moved to London, as a young man, to make his living as a watercolour painter. Burton’s father Samuel was an amateur painter who encouraged his son. As a young man Burton trained at the Dublin Society’s Drawing Schools and began his career as a painter of miniature portraits. The antiquarian and artist, George Petrie, was a mentor and friend who brought Burton to Connemara in 1838 documenting and sketching Irish historical ruins and monuments. Their work was important in promoting an understanding of Ireland’s proud and ancient heritage in the mid-19th century. Petrie also encouraged Burton to become involved in the Royal Irish Academy.

Burton established himself in London as a painter of subject pictures and portraits. Other significant works include: The Blind Girl at the Holy Well (1840); The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child (1841) and Faust’s First Sight of Marguerite (1857). Burton worked in watercolours throughout his career, no oils by him are known. He admired the work of the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which was founded in 1848. He was appointed Director of the National Gallery in London in 1874 where he remained until his retirement in 1894. He acquired many significant works while Director including Leonardo’s ‘Virgin of the Rocks’.