Lot 17
  • 17


20,000 - 30,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • The Widow of Wöhlm
  • signed and dated u.l.: FWBurton. / MDCCCLIX.; titled, signed and dated on the remnants of a label attached to the backboard
  • watercolour
  • 58.5 by 46cm., 23 by 18in.


J. Robinson Esq. by 1862;
Private collection


London, Old Watercolour Society, 1859;
London, International Exhibition, 1862, no.1211;
Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, Frederic William Burton: For the Love of Art, 25 October 2017 - 14 January 2018, no.107

Catalogue Note

'The picture of highest intent is Mr Burton's "Widow of Wohlm," kneeling upon a church floor, prayer- book in hand, the little daughter of childlike innocence and beauty by her side. The manner is evidently closely founded upon the early Flemish school of Van Eyck. The drawing of the head and hands, the cast of the drapery, the whole attitude and purpose, indicate severe and careful study. Though small, there is not another picture of the year which can assert stronger claim to the high dignity of art.' (Blackwood Magazine, December 1859, p.141) Burton first visited Germany and Bavaria in 1842 and there followed a long series of trips to various parts of Europe, which gave him a profound knowledge of the paintings of the Old Masters. Whilst staying in Munich in 1844 he was engaged by Maximilian II of Bavaria to restore and make copies of pictures in the Royal Collection. Towards the end of 1851 Burton moved from Dublin to Germany and lived for the next seven years in Munich working for Maximilian and producing his own detailed watercolours inspired by the local people and architecture. He made annual visits to London to exhibit the watercolours that he painted in Franconia, Nuremberg, Bamberg and the villages of Muggendorf and Wöhlm. Among his most elaborate pictures from this period are Peasantry in Franconia waiting for Confession and The Procession in Bamberg Cathedral and along with the present work, they were well received by the critic for the Times; 'No early master, not Hemling or Van Eyck, not Martin Schon, Cranach, or Holbein, ever painted an individual physiognomy more conscientiously than Mr Burton has painted his widow. And with all the Old Master's care, the modern draughtsman has immeasurably more refinement than any of them.'

The costumes worn by the widow and the young girl are those of Upper Franconia. The child model appears to be the same as depicted in Sunday Morning (Christie's, 26 November, 2003, lot 14).

The best-known of Burton's work is The Meeting on the Turret Stairs of 1864 which is also known as Hellelil and Hildebrand (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin) which was voted the most popular picture in Ireland in 2012. The bright blue of the female figure's dress in this picture is of a similarly bright tone as the child's costume in The Widow of Wöhlm. The crisp detail and strong colour reflect the influence of Pre-Raphaelite painters upon Burton's work, especially Millais. Burton's technical dexterity is even more remarkable, considering that his right hand had been paralysed in a childhood accident and he painted with his left hand.