Frederic W. Burton at The National Gallery


Frederic W. Burton


The National Gallery’s ‘For the Love of Art’ is the fascinating exhibition of the work of Frederic W. Burton the renowned Irish artist. His painting of ‘Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs’ (1864) which is based on a Danish ballad, has become one of Ireland’s best loved works of art but it is great to get the opportunity to see so much of his other work.

I have to admit a huge interest in Frederic as he was Isabella Gifford (nee Burton’s) uncle and had generously helped to support the family following her father’s death. Three of her children Gabriel, Ada and Grace Gifford would follow their grand -uncle and work as artists. I was curious about the man and this exhibition certainly surprised me as it gave a very clear picture of the range of his work and his huge contribution to Irish Art.

From his early watercolours of the landscapes of Connemara and Kerry and the West of Ireland and inhis fine sketches and portraits of local fishermen and their families, Frederic Burton managed to capture a unique part of Ireland’s culture. He loved to travel and over the years many of his works were inspired by legends and stories which he heard.

His painting of ‘The Blind Girl at the Holy Well’ (1840) was widely praised at exhibitions both in Ireland and England and became a hugely popular print of Victorian time.

Frederic Burton was a great observer and in ‘The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child’ managed to contrast the darkness with the bright coloured clothing of the grieving people.

Alongside many of his better known works, his preliminary work and sketches are displayed which shows us how he built up his watercolours and final painting.

meeting on the turret stairs


His use of colour which was demonstrated so well in ‘Hellelil and Hildebrand’ is shown to huge effect in one his portrait of Mrs George Smith. Using only watercolours and gouache, he exactly caught the rich colours of the Kimono shawl worn by Mrs Smith, which bright as ever, is also on display.

His painting career ended when he accepted the prestigious position of Director of The National Gallery in London, as he devoted himself to expanding the gallery and its collection. He was rewarded with a knighthood from Queen Victoria.

Alongside 70 works of art by Burton are works by some of his fellow artists and some of his personal effects. It is great to see our National Gallery honouring the lifetime achievement of Frederic W Burton, one of our finest artists.

william dargon jpeg

William Dargan



I had not visited the National Gallery since its re-opening following the recent refurbishment and upgrade of the Dargan and Milltown Wing. I took the chance to have a walk around the fantastic new light filled courtyard designed by Heneghan Peng and see the beautiful new atrium and corridor which links parts of the gallery and creates bright new spaces. My only disappointment was to see that the statue on the front lawn of William Dargan, the generous man who helped to establish the National Gallery, seems to have been overlooked during all the refurbishment!