Romantic scene captures heart of Irish nation

A watercolour depicting the last embrace between two ill-fated lovers has been declared the nation’s favourite painting.

The Meeting on the Turret Stairs was painted by Clare artist Frederic William Burton in 1864. It hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland and can only be viewed for three hours each week due to its “medium and sensitivity to light”.

The embrace it captures is between princess Hellelil and young soldier Hildebrand. The princess’s father does not approve of the match and has ordered his sons to kill the soldier.

Despite the tragedy portrayed, it is still viewed as one of the most romantic paintings in Ireland.

A five-week long competition had been run by RTÉ to find Ireland’s favourite painting. After making a shortlist of 10, Burton’s piece got 22% of the public vote.

Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ came second with 16% of the vote, and vying for third place were William Leech’s A Convent Garden (13%) and Harry Clarke’s The Eve of St Agnes (12.7%).

President Michael D Higgins, who announced the winner last night, said: “I think the winning piece is a very considerable and beautiful painting.

“The achievement in the medium is extraordinary in terms of the materials — the beautiful tones, the lovely colours, and the richness of them, the detail and the range. 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.”

Sharon Corr, who championed the piece, said: “This painting captures the essence of human nature and how profoundly we are touched and affected by each other. It absolutely deserved to win because it truly reflects our everlasting desire to love and be loved and when we look at it we instantly feel the utter devastation of a love forbidden and also hope beyond hope.”


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