Ireland’s favourite painting reveals that we’re a country of old romantics at heart
AFTER weeks of debate and voting, the country has picked a painting showing a clandestine meeting between tragic lovers as their favourite piece of artwork.
Frederic William Burton’s Hellelil and Hildebrand, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, got 22 per cent of the public vote and saw off competition from works by Louis Le Brocquy, Paul Henry and Caravaggio to win the title of Ireland’s Favourite Painting.
The President Michael D Higgins made the announcement last night on RTE’s The Works. He said: “It’s an extraordinarily detailed and very beautiful picture. The drama of the painting is in the movement of the bodies. I see a kind of sensuality in this painting”.
The painting is a popular fixture in the National Gallery of Ireland. Adding to its mystique is the fact that this watercolour is only available to view for three hours each week, due to its medium and sensitivity to light.
It was championed by Sharon Corr during RTE’s search to find the country’s favourite piece of artwork. The singer had said that one of the reasons she loved the panting was because she and her husband Gavin Bonnar viewed it on their first date at the National Gallery where it is a popular fixture.
The Voice of Ireland judge said: “My first date with my husband was here. It was so special and we've brought our kids back as well, like an anniversary.”
The richly-coloured piece captures the poignant final embrace of the ill-fated lovers.
The story goes that the princess Hellelil’s father regarded the young soldier Hildebrand as an unsuitable match for his daughter and ordered his sons to kill him.
Painted in 1864, it was presented to the National Gallery of Ireland in 1900 by Margaret Stokes, a sister of Whitley Stokes, whose translation of the Danish Ballad inspired Burton, the Co. Clare-born artist.
Although the watercolour is only available to view for three hours each week, due to its medium and sensitivity to light.
Mike Murphy, who presented the Masterpiece documentary said: “I’m delighted the Burton piece won. It’s like a still from a movie, a really well-dressed movie. We’re a nation of romantics, we love romance. I think it’s going to be etched in Irish consciousness from here on in.”
Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ came second in the campaign, with 16% of the vote, and neck-and-neck for third place were William Leech’s A Convent Garden (13%) and Harry Clarke’s The Eve of St Agnes (12.7%), which is held at the Hugh Lane Gallery.
The Burton watercolour is on view in the Millennium Wing of the National Gallery on Merrion Square on Mondays and Wednesdays (11am-12pm) and Saturdays (2-3pm). Viewing times will be extended this weekend: Friday 25 May and Saturday 26 May: 10am-5pm; Sunday 27 May: 12-5pm.