The Accidental Leftie: Sir Frederick Burton
Yesterday marked the 109th anniversary of the death of Sir Frederick William Burton (1816-1900). The Irish painter worked almost exclusively in watercolors and chalks, but his works, such as "Meeting on the Turret Stairs" and "The Child Miranda," sometimes look as though they were done in oils.
1. At the young age of 21, Frederick Burton exhibited three portraits at the Royal Hibernian Academy and was subsequently elected an associate of the group. Just two years later, at age 23, Burton became a full academician. He began exhibiting at the Royal Academy in London in 1842, and was also a member of the Royal Irish Academy, the Archaeological Society of Ireland, and the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours.
2. Painting wasn't exactly an easy task for Burton. As a result of a childhood accident, Burton's right hand and arm were useless, forcing him to become left-handed and paint exclusively with his left hand. Additionally, Burton's eyesight was so weak that he frequently had to take extended breaks from his work.
3. In 1874, Burton was appointed director of London's National Gallery. With the acceptance of the position, Burton stopped painting, leaving his "A Venetian Lady" unfinished. According to most sources, Burton never painted again, instead focusing on the Gallery until he retired in 1894. (He was succeeded by Sir Edward Poynter.)
4. Burton is considered to be responsible for many of the National Gallery's most important purchases in the 19th century, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Sanzio "Raphael" Raffaello, Diego Velazquez, William Hogarth, and Johannes Vermeer. All in all, Burton made more than 500 acquisitions for the Gallery's collection.
5. Burton was an extremely popular painter, receiving "greater praise from The Times than any painter during his lifetime." According to one source, there were "few Irish celebrities of the period he did not paint or draw;" his subjects included George Eliot. In addition to being popular with the public, the media, and celebrities, Burton was also honored by Trinity College and the monarchy. He was knighted in 1884 and received an honorary doctorate of law from Trinity five years later, in 1889.