William Shakespeare Burton
Painting, Visual Artist
1824 – 1916
Who was William Shakespeare Burton?
To paint his most famous work, Burton was said to have dug a hole in the ground to stand in, so that he could paint the grass and ferns at eye level. The work shows a scene from the English Civil War: a Cavalier courier has been ambushed and wounded, and is comforted by a Puritan maiden. Her jealous suitor, carrying a large Bible, looks on.
The painting was shown at the Royal Academy show of 1856, through a strange set of circumstances. Burton's picture was reportedly left in a remote room with its face turned to the wall. Academician A. S. Cope found the picture, brought it to the hanging committee's attention, and even withdrew one of his own works from the show to make room for Burton's, which was hung next to William Holman Hunt's The Scapegoat.
Burton's grandfather was a printer, and his father was William Evans Burton, a comic actor and playwright who found popular success in the United States — while leaving his wife and son behind in London, with little money. An only child, the younger Burton worked at copying prints as a teenager. The dramatist and critic Tom Taylor was his sponsor and patron. Taylor helped the teen find work at the magazine Punch, a job designing capitals for illustrations.
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