William Shakespeare Burton is known by his Pre-Raphaelite painting The Wounded Cavalier, and by little else. He was born in London, his father abandoning the family to become a noted comedian in America. He started as a black and white artist, but after finding a patron in the dramatist and critic Tom Taylor, was able to become a student at the Royal Academy, where he won a gold medal in 1851. He exhibited at the Academy from 1846, achieving success with The Wounded Cavalier in 1856, which was hung next to Holman Hunt's The Scapegoat. The picture shows the injured Cavalier discovered by Puritans, his sectarian enemies. The man stands aloof, the girl is more humane. The dramatic pale face of the injured Cavalier recalls Henry Wallis's Death of Chatterton, exhibited in the same year. The Wounded Cavalier was nearly not shown at all - it had been abandoned, face to the wall, in a remote corner of the Royal Academy (by RA porters not being suitably bribed, Burton believed). There it was found by A. S. Cope, an Academician, after the pictures to be hung in that year's exhibition had already been selected. Cope not only took the forgotten picture to the hanging committee to get their approval, but selflessly withdrew one of his own pictures from display so that there would be room for Burton's picture.
Burton suffered from ill-health, a weak temperament, and various family tragedies, so that his painting career stopped and restarted several times. His output seems to have consisted mainly of religious pictures, although the occasional Pre-Raphaelite figure appears, as in the sleeping girl in An Uninteresting Novel.
The Wounded Cavalier is in the collection of The Guildhall, London.
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