Art Gallery collection pre-1974

Robert Burke (1909–91)
Oil paint on canvas 42.5 x 53
Waterford Municipal Art Collection has a representative collection of Burke’s paintings and drawings.
Theo Snoddy, Dictionary of Irish Artists of the 20th century, 2nd ed., Dublin, 2002, pp 61–62; Peter Jordan, Waterford Municipal Art Collection, 2006; Peter Jordan, ‘Sinclair’s Dream, The Waterford Arts Museum’, Irish Arts Yearbook, 1994
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Robert Burke studied art in his native city of Dundee, and held the position of art master at the Boys Central School, in Grantham, Lincolnshire from 1930–36, when he became Headmaster of the Waterford School of Art. Although only 27 when he took over this role, Burke made an important contribution to the success of the school, instituting a strong arts, craft and design orientation which served the school well for decades. In 1938 he was elected Fellow of the National Society of Art Masters for his thesis ‘The Future Development of Art Education as a Cultural Force in Rural Areas’. He retired from teaching in 1974. Spurred on by his conviction that artists could not succeed unless audiences were educated too, Burke became an active member of the committees to found a Municipal Art Collection and Gallery in Waterford and the Waterford Art Exhibition, held annually at Newtown School during the 1940s. He became one of the mainstays of the exhibition following the departure of the school’s headmaster, Arnold Marsh and his wife, artist Hilda Roberts, from the county in 1939. Burke’s wife, Elizabeth Kinross was also an artist. His work was exhibited annually at the RHA (1937–63) and less frequently at the RA, RSA and the Paris Salon and was included in the inaugural Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1943. His paintings were largely of landscapes which tended to be light-filled representations of the countryside around Waterford and south Tipperary as well as harbour scenes and cityscapes, although an interest in the darker side of Ireland’s history can be deduced from the fact that he exhibited a painting called ‘Coffin Ship’ at the 1945 Irish Exhibition of Living Art and again at the Waterford Art Exhibition. Burke’s depiction of Tramore, the most popular bathing area in Waterford, focuses attention on the crowds of bathers the resort attracted. Burke lines his figures along the promenade wall like swallows waiting to migrate, and fills the foreground with people in various stages of undress, soaking up the last of the evening sunshine. For many people living in the south-east of Ireland in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, an occasional day at Tramore represented the height of summer pleasure. The painting captures that sense of being over-exposed to sun, sand and water and yet reluctant to leave it and return to the everyday.