Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Ireland’s most beloved painter? Irish art for St. Patrick’s Day

March 15th, 2019

With St. Patrick’s Day falling on Sunday, this week we highlight some original artwork in Spencer’s collections by a notable Irish artist, Frederic William Burton (1816-1900).

Photographic portrait of Frederic William Burton inlaid in Madonna Pia volume (MS E184)

Portrait of Frederic William Burton inlaid in Madonna Pia volume. Sir Theodore Martin Collection. Call #: MS E184. Click image to see full volume page.

Though Burton may not be a household name in the United States, his best-known work, “Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs” (1864), was voted Ireland’s favorite painting in a 2012 RTÉ poll.

That painting, housed at the National Gallery of Ireland, draws its theme from a medieval Danish ballad. As the museum’s label explains, the ballad tells the story of “Hellelil, who fell in love with her personal guard Hildebrand, Prince of Engelland. Her father disapproved of the relationship and ordered her seven brothers to kill the young prince.” Burton’s painting captures a moment of longing: a final fleeting meeting between the ill-fated couple.

Frederic William Burton (1816-1900), 'Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs', 1864. © National Gallery of Ireland.
Frederic William Burton (1816-1900), ‘Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs’, 1864. © National Gallery of Ireland. Click image to enlarge.

One of the more astonishing aspects of the painting is that it is a watercolor (Burton always worked in watercolors rather than oils). To protect the painting from light damage, the National Gallery of Ireland has it on display for just two hours a week, keeping it behind protective panels the remainder of the time.

A more modest example of Burton’s artistry in watercolors resides at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library in a series of costume designs he made for a play by the writer Theodore Martin (more on this soon).

A native of Co. Clare, Frederic William Burton was born to a wealthy land-owning family. He moved to Dublin at ten and by sixteen had exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy.  His early career was as a miniaturist and portraitist, always working in watercolors.

Through his friendship with the Irish antiquarian, George Petrie, Burton was inspired to turn to the Irish landscape and consider Irish subjects in his paintings, as in his 1841 watercolor The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child.  

Burton’s connection to another friend, Thomas Davis, a leader of the nationalist Young Ireland movement, resulted in his contribution of the illustrated title page for The Spirit of the Nation (1845), an anthology of ballads and songs by Davis and other writers associated with periodical The Nation. At the time, however, Burton kept his contribution anonymous, reluctant to enter into the fray of politics. In a memorial tribute, Lady Gregory would recall that Burton had been in favor of Ireland’s union with England and did not share Davis’s nationalist politics, but that he had undertaken the title page to please his friend, “ there was nothing in the world he would not have done for Davis” [1].  Spencer Research Library’s multiple copies of The Spirit of the Nation deserve a St. Patrick’s Day post of their own.  The copy pictured below contains two inserted leaves of inscriptions of Young Irelanders Terence Bellew MacManus, Thomas Francis Meagher, Patrick O’Donohoe, and William Smith O’Brien, signed from Clonmel Gaol in Tipperary, following their 1848 attempted nationalist rising. The signature of O’Brien, is visible on the leaf tipped in next to Burton’s illustrated title page.

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Image of Burton's illustration design for The Spirit of the Nation (1845), with tipped in inscription by Willliam S. O'Brien, Clomel Gaol, November 1848

Burton’s illustration design in The Spirit of the Nation (1845), with tipped-in leaf inscribed by young Ireland leader William Smith O’Brien, in Clonmel Gaol, Nov. 1848. Dublin: Published by James Duffy, 23 Anglesea-Street, 1845. Call #: O’Hegarty C458

As noted earlier, Spencer Library’s collections also reveal another dimension of Burton’s career as an artist. We hold a copy of a special volume belonging to the attorney and writer Sir Theodore Martin (with his bookplate).  It comprises pages of the 1860 privately printed second edition of Martin’s play Madonna Pia: A Tragedy juxtaposed with 11 original watercolors of costume designs. Though the sketches are not signed, Martin included in his special volume a manuscript letter from the artist signed “FWB” alongside a portrait of Burton, signaling his identity as the artist. The letter was sent in November 1855, the date of the first edition of Martin’s play, from Munich, where Burton was serving as curator of the Royal collection for Maximilian II of Bavaria.

Image of the Madonna Pia title page with a watercolor and gouache painting of Giacomo's costume, with costuming notes

Frederic William Burton’s watercolor and gouache painting of the costume for “Giacomo.” [Munich, 1855], bound with the title page of Theodore Martin’s Madonna Pia (1860, second edition). Sir Theodore Martin Collection. Call #: MS E184.  Click image to enlarge.

In the letter, likely addressed to Martin’s wife, the actress Helena Faucit, Burton apologizes for the quality of his watercolors. He self-deprecatingly explains:

These hasty sketches are not indeed what I had intended – but just as I was engaged about them the Fine Arts were under a cloud from weather such as ever you Londoners need not have envied us. They are very scribbly & coarse — & I fear none of them will answer, – but you will gratify me by giving them to any little relatives you may have under five years of age to amuse themselves by sticking pins through them.


Frederic William Burton's watercolour and gouache painting of Madonna Pia in gold dress costume, with pencil notes on costuming

Pencil, watercolor, and gouache sketch of "Pia 3d Dress" and "Count Nello"

Burton’s watercolor and gouache painting and sketch of the costumes for “Madonna Pia / 2d dress” and “Pia 3d dress” and “Count Nello” [Munich, 1855], bound with Theodore Martin’s Madonna Pia (1860, second edition). Sir Theodore Martin Collection. Call #: MS E184. Click images to enlarge.

Image of Frederic William Burton's watercolor and gouache costume painting for Nello della Pietra, with facing text

Frederic William Burton’s watercolor and gouache painting for the costume of “Nello della Pietra,” bound with Theodore Martin’s Madonna Pia (1860, second edition). Sir Theodore Martin Collection. Call #: MS E184. Click image to enlarge.

Fortunately for us, Martin preserved the watercolors and bound them together with a later edition of his play.  Madonna Pia takes its inspiration from a passage in Dante’s Purgatorio to tell the story of Pia’s imprisonment and poisoning by her jealous husband, Count Nello della Pietra. It was a popular subject during the Victorian era; KU’s Spencer Museum of Art holds a later painting, Pia de’ Tolomei, by pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti that references the same tale from Dante.

Three years after Frederic William Burton executed his “hasty sketches,” he took up residence in London. There, he was part of the circle of Rossetti and other Pre-Raphaelite artists, and it was during this time that he painted “Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs.” In 1874, Burton was made director of London’s National Gallery, and he retired from painting. Though he died in London on the day before St. Patrick’s Day in 1900, Burton returned Ireland in death. He was buried in Dublin’s Mount Jerome Cemetery, and his work was exhibited at Dublin’s National Gallery later that same year.  In her remembrance, Lady Gregory wrote that despite his years spent abroad, which left him “almost forgotten” in Dublin, Burton’s “heart was Irish to the last” [2].

Come examine Frederic William Burton’s watercolor sketches for Madonna Pia at Spencer Research Library, and then continue on to explore other materials in our Irish Collections.  Not certain where to start? Take a glance at some past blog posts or explore our Irish Collections LibGuide.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

[1] Gregory, Lady Augusta.  “Sir Frederic Burton.” The Leader: A Review of Current Affairs, Politics, Literature, Art and Industry. Vol 1, no. 15 (8 December 1900): 231. Call #: O’Hegarty E98

[2] ibid.

Works consulted include:

Caffrey, Paul. “Burton, Sir Frederic William (1816–1900), watercolour
painter and art administrator.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. September 23, 2004. Oxford University Press. Date of access 11 Mar. 2019, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-4127.

Clarke, Frances. “Burton, Sir Frederic William.” Dictionary of Irish Biography. James McGuire, James Quinn, Editors. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2009. http://dib.cambridge.org/viewReadPage.do?articleId=a1216

Spencer Research Library and Archaeology

February 19th, 2019

This month’s temporary exhibit in Spencer’s North Gallery – titled “Spencer Research Library and Archaeology”features a collection of materials available through Spencer that could or have proven to be useful in archaeological research. Spanning from tomes written during the developmental days of archaeology as a science to modern articles on the forefront of archaeological investigations, the collections at Spencer Research Library offer a broad assemblage of knowledge not available through most library settings.

The first display case demonstrates the spectrum of resources available to archaeological researchers by highlighting a sample from each of Spencer’s collections. This includes documents of early Old World archaeology, books on regional archaeology, archaeological reports, and serial clippings and publications featuring archaeological findings and collections. Such materials are often used as supplementary materials in extant studies, though there is plenty potential for new studies to be conducted as well.

Image of pages from Archaeologia cambrensis, January 1846

Archaeologia cambrensis (Welsh Archaeology), volume 1, number 1, January 1846.
Published by the Cambrian Archaeological Association with the goal of interpreting cultural significance
over material value, Archaeologia cambrensis illustrates a transitional period
in the development of archaeology as a science. Call Number: C16530. Click image to enlarge.

Cover of the book Kansas Archaeology, 2006

Kansas Archaeology, 2006. This work offers a broad perspective of the
archaeological history of Kansas. It is accessible to those with or without a
strong background in archaeology. Call Number: RH C11685. Click image to enlarge.

The second display case features materials available at Spencer Research Library that have been used in archaeological projects. One such project is the Douglas County Cellar Survey, known colloquially as the “Caves Project.” The Caves Project is a survey funded by the Douglas County Natural and Cultural Heritage Grant Program with the goal of locating and documenting stone arched cellars. The cellars (referred to as “caves”) – constructed from the 1850s into the 1920s – represent a cultural phenomenon unique to the region; thus, archaeologists hope to properly document these caves before they are lost to time. The Caves Project has utilized Spencer Research Library materials such as plat maps, deed records, and topical books on regional history.

Map of Lecompton Township, 1909

Plat map of Lecompton Township in Plat Work and Complete Survey of Douglas County, Kansas, 1909.
This map was used in the Caves Project to locate potential cave structures. In addition to
revealing site locations, the map was also superimposed with older plat maps of the same area to
indicate images that were no longer extant. Call Number: RH Atlas G32. Click image to enlarge.

Also included in the second display case is an artifact, known as a projectile point base, that comes from the Clovis Paleoamerican culture of North America. Likely a broken spear tip, this artifact is likely around 13,000 calendar years old. Found during a 1976 pedestrian survey of site 14DO137 near Clinton Lake in Douglas County, Kansas, this point base is one of the only remaining items left by some of – if not the – first people to ever walk in eastern Kansas. Reviewed as part of an ongoing survey of literature for the Caves Project, multiple archaeological reports indicated that the point was donated to the University of Kansas Archaeological Research Center. Thanks to their cooperation, the point has been loaned to Spencer Research Library for this current exhibit and, as seen below, three-dimensionally scanned. The point has been used in a number of archaeological investigations, including a report on the presence of Clovis people in southeastern Kansas by KU’s Dr. Jack Hofman.

Frank Conard
Spencer Research Library Public Services Student Assistant and KU Anthropology Major

Color Our Collections – Round 2!

February 6th, 2019

Color Our Collections logo, 2019

Color Our Collections is back! Started by the New York Academy of Medicine Library in 2016, Color Our Collections is a week of coloring craziness where libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world share free coloring pages featuring their collection materials.

KU Libraries participated for the first time last year, and this year we have another coloring book to share! Featuring materials at the Spencer Research Library, this year’s book even includes two pages celebrating the Spencer’s 50th anniversary. You can download and print the book via the Color Our collections website. While you are there, be sure to check out the submissions from our colleagues at other institutions!

As a preview, here are three pages from the book.

Spencer Research Library image in the KU Libraries coloring book, 2019

Spencer Chemical and P&M advertisement in the KU Libraries coloring book, 2019

Kelmscott Chaucer image in the KU Libraries coloring book, 2019

Happy coloring, everyone!

Emily Beran
Public Services

January 1, 1804: Haiti Declares Independence

January 1st, 2019

January 1st is celebrated in both the United States and Haiti as the start of the New Year, but it is an important holiday in Haiti for another reason. January 1st is the day in 1804 that Haiti declared its independence from colonial rule. Freeing itself from French control, Haiti became the first nation to be founded by formerly-enslaved people having successfully revolted through a series of uprisings starting in 1791.

Haiti is the focus of the 2018-2019 KU Common Book, a shared reading experience that is part of the university’s First-Year programming. In the selected book, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, the author Edwidge Danticat points out that the United States did not immediately recognize Haiti as a free state. Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States from 1801 to 1809, expressed concerns about the impact the slave revolt in Haiti might have on the U.S. A brief overview of the American political perspectives on the Haitian Revolution is available online from the Office of the Historian of the United States Department of State.

Historic maps often interestingly reflect a particular political perspective. The map shown below is from Spencer Research Library’s Special Collections. It is a map of the United States published in 1816 (and “improved to the 1st of January 1818”) in Philadelphia. The map includes “the contiguous British and Spanish possessions” and has an inset of the West Indies.

Image of the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

Image of the title of the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816 Closeup of the title of the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

The map (top) with closeups of its title (bottom), which reads as follows: “Map of the United States with the
contiguous British & Spanish possessions / Compiled from the latest & best Authorities by John Melish / Entered
according to Act of Congress the 6th day of June 1816. / Published by John Melish Philadelphia. / Improved
to the 1st of January 1818.” Call Number: N8 Orbis #127. Click images to enlarge.

An inset showing the West Indies on the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

St. Domingo shown on the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

An inset showing the West Indies (top) and a closeup of “St. Domingo” (bottom).
Modern-day Haiti occupies the western side of the island of Hispaniola.
The eastern side is the Dominican Republic. Hispaniola is part of the Greater Antilles
in the West Indies. Call Number: N8 Orbis #127. Click images to enlarge.

Although Haiti had established itself as a republic in 1804 and had discarded its former name as the French colony of Saint-Domingue, this American map from 1816 shows the entire island of Hispaniola labeled as “St. Domingo.” A “Statistical Table of the Several Countries Exhibited on the Map” (shown below) includes the states and territories of the United States and other countries with the subcategories of British possessions, Spanish possessions, and an unlabeled grouping that lists St. Domingo as controlled by “Natives,” Guadaloupe controlled by the French, St. Bartholomew controlled by the Swedes, and St. Thomas and Santa Cruz controlled by the Danes.

A statistical table shown on the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816 Closeup of a statistical table shown on the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

The map’s statistical table. Call Number: N8 Orbis #127. Click images to enlarge.

It was not until 1862, during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, that the United States government officially recognized Haitian independence.

Stacey Wiens
Reference Specialist
Public Services

Holiday Hosting with “The ‘Home Queen’ Cook Book”

December 7th, 2018

December has arrived and with it the winter holiday season! Since the holiday season means holiday parties, I wanted to look into hosting an oft forgotten type of affair – a lovely, elegant dinner party!

Personally, I do not have much experience with dinner parties so I decided to go to the best source I could find: The “Home Queen” Cook Book. Compiled during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, The “Home Queen” Cook Book features recipes, etiquette, and entertaining suggestions from “over two hundred World’s Fair lady managers, wives of governors, and other ladies of position and influence.” Armed with the advice of these many esteemed ladies, I set out to see if I could recreate an elegant dinner party from generations past. What follows is a story of research, abandoned dreams, and a final feeble attempt to do anything I had originally hoped to accomplish.

Image of the cover of "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

The cover of The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

Now, I do not know what everyone else pictures when they think of a dinner party, but I was envisioning an elegantly set table with beautiful linens and fine china to hold a magnificent multi-course meal. With that image in mind, I immediately began examining the section on “Party Suppers” in The “Home Queen” Cook Book. That sounds like the place to start, right? And what did I learn? First, a “party supper” and a dinner party are not synonymous. A party supper is much less formal than what I was expecting when I read the heading:

An evening party… would assemble quite early in the evening. This would give plenty of time for social intercourse, music and innocent amusements. Refreshments might be carried around on trays, and the guests served with cake, coffee or lemonade. Fine large napkins should first be handed around. These should be spread on the knees to receive the plates afterward furnished. Delicate sandwiches of chopped tongue, spread thinly on sandwich biscuits, or the white meat of turkey or check are very nice for such entertainments. Ice cream, confectionery, and ripe fruit of any kind may be served.

I liked the idea of this informal gathering, which was meant to “facilitate conversation, ease, and the choosing of congenial companions out of mixed gatherings at large parties.” What more could you want from a festive holiday party? However, I still had the aforementioned picture of a dinner party in my mind. This prompted me to look to the sections on “The Mid-Day Meal” and “The Evening Meal” in the book, hoping to find any information that might be of use. Lo and behold, I found exactly what I was picturing in “The Mid-Day Meal” section! In it was everything I could ever want to know about table settings, the most appropriate food choices, even how to properly invite your guests to the affair. Before spending a great deal of time on the overwhelming amount of food described, I decided to focus first on the most basic aspect of the evening: a proper table setting.

After reading the descriptions of the proper linens, plates, crystal, and silver, I realized that just setting the table would cost a small fortune. The proper “snow white” table linen made of the suggested “handsome Irish damask” would easily cost over $100 for a small tablecloth. Any attempt at recreating the quality of a proper dinner table setting was clearly out of reach.

“Ok,” I thought to myself, “If the expected quality is unmanageable, what can I do that would dress up a somewhat subpar table setting so that it at least looks elegant?” Returning to the book, I found the perfect remedy: an artfully folded napkin. Aided by the “Folding Table Napkins” section, I began my attempt to create anything that might give me the air of sophistication I had hoped to achieve when I originally formed this brilliant plan of mine.

Image of the instructions for the Escutcheon napkin fold in "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

Escutcheon napkin fold diagram and instructions in
The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

The “Home Queen” Cook Book features no less than twenty-one different napkin-folding techniques to help ensure that “the dining room, the table and all that is placed upon it shall be made as attractive as possible.” With such a plethora of options – all with detailed instructions and pictures to guide me – I thought I had finally found the perfect starting point on my way to my dream dinner party. Unfortunately, my optimism and confidence were quickly destroyed after attempting only two of the possible folds: the Escutcheon (picture above) and the Chestnut Pocket (pictured below).

Image of the instructions for the Chestnut Pocket napkin fold in "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

The Chestnut Pocket napkin fold diagram and instructions in
The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

The Escutcheon: Described as “the easiest of all the ornamental foldings,” the Escutcheon was the beginning of the end for me. It was here I learned that the instructions to starch and iron the napkins immediately before folding was not a suggestion but truly an absolute requirement. After close to a half an hour of intense labor and a great deal of swearing, I finally managed to produce… something.

Photograph of an Escutcheon napkin fold attempt

My attempt at the Escutcheon napkin fold. Click image to enlarge.

The Chestnut Pocket: My attempt to regaining any semblance of dignity after being so embarrassingly defeated by the Escutcheon finally yielded a positive result for me! I even took it a step beyond the Chestnut Pocket and created the Pocket Napkin. I found that the secret to success lay in finding a napkin-folding technique that did not need to stand up. With this revelation, I managed to produce the following creation:

Photograph of a Pocket napkin fold attempt

My successful attempt at the Pocket napkin fold
(a variation on the Chestnut Pocket napkin fold).
Click image to enlarge.

So after all of this – the research, the numerous disappointments, the defeat, and eventual triumph – I am sure you must be wondering: will I be hosting my envisioned elegant dinner party this holiday season? To put it succinctly, absolutely not. There is only so much embarrassment by fabric I am willing to put myself through in the name of holiday entertaining.

Emily Beran
Public Services