Clare Museum’s new departure

Frederic William Burton, Portrait of a Woman 1849

It was the historical collection, housed for many years in the local library, that gave Clare Museum in Ennis its initial impetus. Opened twenty years ago, the museum’s collection has grown over the decades, with a long-term loan arrangement in place with the National Museum, encompassing mainly archaeological material of past local finds.

The recent addition of a watercolour by Frederic William Burton (1816-1900) to the museum’s collection represents a new departure. ‘This is the first acquisition by Clare Museum of a painting and it is very fitting that it is by an artist whose ancestry has a strong Clare connection,’ says museum curator John Rattigan.

Burton – whose Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864, in the NGI, was voted Ireland’s favourite painting from a shortlist in 2012 – spent much of his childhood in Clare. He lived with his grandparents at the family seat at Clifden House, Corofin, on the edge of the Burren. Burton’s grandparents were Major Edward William Burton, who was High Sheriff of Clare in 1799, and his wife, Jane Blood of nearby Roxton House.

‘Marie Burke made us aware of Burton’s Clare credentials and she was instrumental too in helping the museum acquire this painting,’ adds Rattigan. ‘We’re delighted to have it on display for the public and we hope to build up our art collection in the years to come.’ It could even be the start of a Burton Collection.
The unknown subject of Portrait of a Woman features a middle-aged woman wearing a black shawl and a lace bonnet. The watercolour, signed in monogram ‘F.W.B.’ and dated 1849, has a note on the backing paper with an address of ‘2 Salem Place’ (off Adelaide Road in Dublin). The 1849 issue of the Dublin Almanac and General Register of Ireland has both Burton and his mother Hannah resident at this address that year. Could the unnamed woman in the painting be Frederic William Burton’s mother?

Brigid Mulcahy