A brand new exhibition on Richard Burton’s life reveals the man behind the headlines – the husband, father, reader, writer and passionate Welshman.
Becoming Richard Burton, opening at National Museum Cardiff on Saturday 21 November, follows the remarkable story of how Richard Jenkins, the boy from Pontrhydyfen and Taibach, Port Talbot, became Richard Burton, the international star of stage and screen.
The free exhibition, which is a partnership between Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and Swansea University, will feature Burton’s diaries, papers and personal objects on display for the public for the very first time. The items have been loaned to the museum by the Richard Burton Archives at Swansea University.
Other highlight objects loaned for the exhibition include costumes worn by Burton on stage in the Shakespearean performances that launched his career and later as Hollywood star in Cleopatra, the film that changed his life.
To coincide with the physical exhibition, there will also be a digital exhibition on the museum’s website from mid-December. Produced by Focus Group, a design and creative agency based in Cardiff and Edinburgh, the digital exhibition will be updated with key stories and items on a regular basis. This signals a change in how the museum will approach future exhibitions, and it hopes to build on its digital offering.
Amgueddfa Cymru’s Director General, David Anderson said: “It is indisputable that Richard Burton was and remains a national icon. We couldn’t have told his story without the support of the Richard Burton Archives at Swansea University and we’re grateful to Sally Burton for sharing her personal collection.
“This is the first exhibition to examine his life in full and tell the story of how a young boy from humble beginnings in south Wales became the most famous Welshman of our time, and serves as an inspiration of how this wonderful country punches above its weight.
“Museums and galleries play a vital role in ensuring the wellbeing of our nation and I’m proud that Amgueddfa Cymru has been able to realise this exhibition in the difficult circumstances that the pandemic continues to present us.”
Professor Martin Stringer, pro-vice-chancellor of Swansea University, said: “The Richard Burton Collection at Swansea is the most comprehensive source of primary information to date about Burton’s life and work, and the Richard Burton Centre is a leading interdisciplinary research in the field of Welsh cultural studies. Swansea University is delighted to have loaned items and to have contributed our expertise to this exhibition which will give visitors, and those accessing the exhibition online, an insight into the deeply cultured, widely-read, intellectual man Burton was.”
Sally Burton, Richard Burton’s widow, donated many of the objects to Swansea University in 2005, creating the Richard Burton Archive. Sally said: “Richard made a massive journey from Wales to the world stage. There was something quite extraordinary about him which was apparent from an early age. I think everyone who met him felt it. People were drawn to him. It was a magical quality which he also knew he had but he didn’t quite know what it was. One thing he did know was that he had to pursue it, knocking down barriers as he went. Sometimes he would say, ‘what is it about me?’. I believe this exhibition, and here I must thank everyone involved, will enable us to explore some of those intriguing answers.”