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fter Burton moved to London in 1858 he quickly became acquainted with members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. Bourke has commented: “Influenced by the work of the Pre-Raphaelite painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais, and impressed by their dedication to a romantic ideal in the pursuit of their art, he forged friendships with them and other members of their circle. He was close to Edward Burne-Jones, sharing his scholarly approach to art history, literature and Italian art, and he joined organizations such as the Hogarth Club…In 1865 he purchased Rossetti’s Salutation of Beatrice (1859-63) from William Morris, revealing strong admiration for the poet and artist” (22).

It is uncertain how Burton first became acquainted with the Pre-Raphaelites although it might have been through their appreciation of the works he was exhibiting at the Old Water Colour Society. He is thought to have first met Rossetti around 1856. In 1857 Burton exhibited Faust’s first Sight of Marguerite at the O.W.S., a painting that Rossetti would no doubt have admired since he had been drawing subjects from Goethe’s Faust himself since 1846. The friendship of Burton with the Pre-Raphaelites must have developed relatively quickly because by 1860 he had already been elected a member of the Hogarth Club. At the Hogarth Club he would have met most of the progressive young artists and architects of the period. Burton would have been considerably older than the majority of their artistic members, but despite this they obviously felt he was a compatible candidate. Through Rossetti he met other artists in the Pre-Raphaelite circle like James Whistler, Val Prinsep, Charles Fairfax Murray, and Edward Burne-Jones, poets like William Allingham and Algernon Swinburne, and critics like William Michael Rossetti and Frederic George Stephens.

Burton is mentioned frequently in the letters and diaries of members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. William Allingham’s diary for June 27, 1864 records: ‘Got down to Chelsea by half-past eight to D.G. R’s [Rossetti]. Breakfasted in a small lofty room on first floor…Then Swinburne came in, and soon began to recite…and after him Whistler, who talked about his own pictures – Royal Academy – the Chinese-painter-girl, Millais, etc. I went off to Ned Jones’s, found Mrs. Ned and Pip, and F. Burton” (101). George Price Boyce’s dairies mention many instances of Burton joining in social activities with members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. On February 10, 1863 Boyce records that Burton had intended proposing him for membership in the Old Water Colour Society. On March 23, 1865 Boyce writes: “Dined with Gabriel Rossetti. Wm. [Rossetti] there too, W. Bell Scott and Burton, Rose and Prinsep” (40). On November 30, 1864 Boyce writes: “D. G. And Wm. Rossetti, Anthony [Mark Anthony], Swinburne, F. G. Stephens and Fred Burton came to spend the evening with me” (41). On December 29, 1864 Boyce mentions that he and Rossetti visited Burton at his home at 43 Argyll Road in Kensington. On February 10, 1865 Boyce records: “Dined at Arts Club. Full table. Had lots of friends to tea (afterwards) at my studio. The two Rossettis, Clayton, Wells, Walter Field, F. Burton, Henry Wallis and Val Prinsep” (41-42). On March 14, 1866 Boyce writes: “To Brixton to C. A. Howell’s together with a lot of other men. D. G. & W. Rossetti, G. Chapman, F. M. Brown, E. B. Jones, Fred Burton, A. Rose and George Cruikshank. Was surprised at his juvenescence, being so advanced in years” (44).

When a subscription in honour and on behalf of Cruikshank was started in March of 1866, with John Ruskin as President and C. A. Howell as Secretary, Burton joined with his Pre-Raphaelite colleagues Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Swinburne, Fairfax Murray, and Simeon Solomon amongst others in support. On December 14, 1866 Boyce records: “Dined at D.G.R.’s. Fred Burton, Sandys, Jekyll, Howell, Gagley, Jimmy Whistler and his brother [William], Swinburne and Ormesby” (45). On December 20, 1865 Boyce writes: “Met Gabriel Rossetti and Fredk. Sandys at the Lock by appointment for dinner. Adjourned afterwards to my rooms. Fred Burton and Howell joining us there” (45-46). A letter of January 4, 1865 from D. G. Rossetti to Boyce mentions them going to Burton’s. Burton’s socializing with Boyce apparently continued over many years. As late as February 16, 1875 Boyce records: “Fredk. Burton, H. H. Armstead, J. R. Clayton, and Arthur Hughes dined with me” (62). Boyce’s diary ends at 1875. W. M. Rossetti’s published diaries that run from 1870-73 records on March 11, 1873: “Dined at Howell’s, Northend Grove…Burton, Sandys, etc. there” (246). Ford Madox Brown, in a diary entry for June 23, 1866, writes: “Burton, Lowes D. [Lowes Cato Dickinson], Street, Shields, Holland [James Holland] & D. G. R. to dinner” (218). Rossettti, based on his letters, obviously had a high opinion of Burton. In a letter of December 22, 1868 from Rossetti to Alice Boyd he writes, “Burton is a brick.” When Ford Madox Brown was applying to become Slade Professor of Art at Cambridge Rossetti, in a letter to Brown of December 5, 1872, suggests that he enlist Burton to write a letter on his behalf.

Burton was especially close to Edward Burne-Jones in the 1860s despite their seventeen-year age gap. When Burne-Jones resigned from the Old Water Colour Society in 1870 because of the controversy over the nudity of the figure of Demophoön in his picture Phyllis and Demophoön Burton resigned in sympathy because of his warm feelings for Burne-Jones. He refused to reconsider his decision despite the fact that the O.W.S. was his main exhibiting venue. In 1886 Burne-Jones agreed to be re-elected to the Old Water Colour Society and Burton was willing to return as an honorary member. Burton was also friends with Frederic Leighton and G. F. Watts.


Crowley, Claire Ed. Frederic William Burton For the Love of Art. Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland, 2017.

Bourke, Marie. “Frederic William Burton: An overview of his life.” In Frederic William Burton For the Love of Art. Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland, 2017, 14-27.

Greer, Elena. “Frederic William Burton as director of the National Gallery, London.” In Frederic William Burton For the Love of Art. Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland, 2017, 66-75. Greer, Elena J. “Frederic William Burton and the controversy of art-historical expertise at the National Gallery, London, in the late nineteenth century.” Journal of Art Histiography No. 18 (June 2018): 1-20.

Grigson, Geoffrey. William Allingham’s Diary. Fontwell, Sussex: Centaur Press Ltd., 1967.

Hodge, Anne. “The gilded beam on the humming-bird’s throat’: Burton’s portraiture.” In Frederic William Burton For the Love of Art. Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland, 2017, 36-47.

McLean, Janet. “Picturing Poetry – Burton and the Rossetti circle.” In Frederic William Burton For the Love of Art. Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland, 2017, 56-65.

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Last Decade 1873-1882. Ed. William E. Fredeman. Volume 6. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2006.

Surtees, Virginia Ed. The Diaries of George Price Boyce. Norwich, Norfolk: Real World, 1980.

Surtees, Virginia Ed. The Diary of Ford Madox Brown. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1981.

Last modified 11 April 2022