Sir Frederick William Burton (1816-1900), British painter and art connoisseur, the third son of Samuel Burton of Mungret, Co. Limerick, was born in Ireland in 1816. He was educated in Dublin, where his artistic studies were carried on with marked success under the direction of Mr Brocas, an able teacher, who foretold for the lad a distinguished career. That this estimate was not exaggerated was proved by Burton's immediate success in his profession. He was elected an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy at the age of twenty-one and an academician two years later; and in 1842 he began to exhibit at the Royal Academy. A visit to Germany and Bavaria in 1851 was the first of a long series of wanderings in various parts of Europe, which gave him a profound and intimate knowledge of the works of the Old Masters, and prepared him admirably for the duties that he undertook in 1874 when he was appointed director of the British National Gallery in succession to Sir W. Boxall, R.A. During the twenty years that he held this post he was responsible for many important purchases, among them Leonardo da Vinci's "Virgin of the Rocks," Raphael's "Ansidei Madonna," Holbein's "Ambassadors," Van Dyck's equestrian portrait of Charles I., and the "Admiral Pulido Pareja," by Velasquez; and he added largely to the noted series of Early Italian pictures in the gallery.
The number of acquisitions made to the collection during his period of office amounts to not fewer than 500. His own painting, most of which was in water-colour, had more attraction for experts than for the general public. He was elected an associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours in 1855, and a full member in the following year. He resigned in 1870, and was re-elected as an honorary member in 1886. A knighthood was conferred on him in 1884, and the degree of LL.D. of Dublin in 1889. In his youth he had strong sympathy with the "Young Ireland Party," and was a close associate with some of its members. He died in Kensington on the 16th of March 1900.