Educated in Dublin, he was elected an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy at the age of twenty-one and an academician two years later. In 1842 he began to exhibit at the Royal Academy. A visit to Germany and Bavaria in 1842 was the first of a long series of trips to various parts of Europe, which gave him a profound knowledge of the works of the Old Masters. From 1851 he spent 7 years working as a painter in the service of Maximilian II of Bavaria
Burton worked with George Petrie on archaeological sketches and was on the council of the Royal Irish Academy and the Archaeological Society of Ireland. He was elected an associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1855, and a full member in the following year. He resigned in 1870, and was reelected 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. He died in Kensington, London and is buried in Mt Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.
Burton's best known watercolours, The Aran Fisherman's Drowned Child, 1841, and the Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864 (also known as Hellelil and Hildebrand) are exhibited at The National Gallery of Ireland. Meeting on the Turret Stairs was voted by the Irish public as Irelands favourite painting in 2012 from among 10 works shortlisted by critics. 
Directorship of the National Gallery
In 1874 Burton was appointed director of the National Gallery, London, in succession to Sir William Boxall, RA. In June 1874, he obtained a special grant to acquire the art collection of Alexander Barker, which included Piero della Francesca's Nativity and Botticelli's Venus and Mars. In 1876 a bequest of 94 paintings, mainly by Dutch artists but also including works by Pollaiuolo, Bouts and Canaletto, was made by the haberdasher Wynne Ellis. Also in this year an extension to the Gallery by E. M. Barry was completed.
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, Anthony van Dyck's equestrian portrait of Charles I, Hans Holbein the Younger's Ambassadors, and the Admiral Pulido Pareja, by Diego Velázquez (this subsequently attributed to Velázquez's assistant Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo). He also added 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 more than 500.
Burton died in London in 1900 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Frederick William Burton|
|Wikisource has the text of the Dictionary of National Biography 1901 supplement's article about Sir Frederic William Burton.|
- Aspects of Irish Art. National Gallery of Ireland. Cahill & Co. 1974. Pg 106. Retrieved Mar. 18, 2008
- H Potterton, 'A Director with Discrimination: Frederic Burton at the National Gallery', Country Life, vol 155 (1974), pp.1140-41.
- Smith, Charles Saumarez (2009). The National Gallery: A Short History. London: Frances Lincoln. pp. 86–87
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