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Love the Meeting on the Turret Stairs? A draft ver...

A draft version of one of Ireland’s most famous paintings – Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs by Sir Frederic William Burton – has come to light and will be sold at auction next month.

Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers, said that an unnamed client has consigned the watercolour, an “original preparatory study” attributed to Burton which has been assigned a pre-auction estimate of €7,000-€10,000. It will go under the hammer on March 7th in the saleroom in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.

Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs was chosen as Ireland’s favourite painting in a poll carried out by RTÉ in 2012. The 19th-century watercolour, which hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland, dates from 1864. The subject was inspired by a medieval Danish ballad translated by Whitley Stokes, a friend of the artist’s. 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. However, Burton chose to imagine a romantic moment from the story before the terrible end: the final meeting of the two lovers on a turret stairs in a castle.

Because watercolours are light-sensitive, the National Gallery restricts the hours during which the painting can be viewed – currently Thursdays 5.30-6.30pm and Sundays 2-3pm.

Auctioneer George Fonsie Mealy said the framed picture in his auction, measures 12 by 8 inches (about one fifth the size of the final version) and has a manuscript note on the reverse that claims the artist gave the study to Dr CE Fitzgerald who, in turn gave it “G.P.” believed to be George Prescott. Mr Mealy said Fitzgerald was a cousin of Burton’s and Prescott was a “contemporary associate”.

Burton made numerous preparatory studies in both in pencil and watercolour for the painting that show how he experimented with different colours. One, that depicts Hellelil in a green dress, is in the collection of the Boston College Museum of Art in the United States.

Frederic William Burton was born in Co Wicklow in 1816, grew up in Co Clare and trained as an artist in Dublin before moving to England where he became a well-known artist. In 1874, he was appointed Director of the National Gallery in London where he remained until his retirement in 1894. During his stewardship, he oversaw the acquisition of many famous paintings for the gallery including Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks. He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1884. He died in Kensington in 1900 and was buried in Dublin.

The sale at Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers takes place in the saleroom at Chatsworth Street, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny on Wednesday, March 7th (see

Source: Michael Parsons