Richard Burton exhibition details the life of the international star of stage and screen

A new exhibition at National Museum Cardiff reveals how a boy from Port Talbot became award-winning film and theatre star Richard Burton

Richard Burton is widely known as one of Hollywood’s most handsome faces (Credit: Milton H. Greene/Joshua Greene)

A new exhibition at National Museum Cardiff details the life of film and theatre actor Richard Burton.

Becoming Richard Burton features such personal effects as his diaries, papers, and other possessions, many of which are on public display for the first time. Other highlights include the costumes worn by Burton during his roles in the 1963 film Cleopatra and various Shakespeare adaptations throughout his career.

The exhibition is a partnership between National Museum Wales and Swansea University, where many of the objects were previously held in the Richard Burton Archive, first formed in 2005.

Speaking about the exhibition, National Museum Wales’ director general David Anderson extended his thanks to Swansea University and Sally Burton (Richard’s widow), and said he was proud to showcase a Welshman of such talent in the museum.

He was also extremely pleased that the museum has been able to open the exhibition during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying, “Museums and galleries play a vital role in ensuring the wellbeing of our nation and I’m proud that [National Museum Wales] has been able to realise this exhibition in the difficult circumstances that the pandemic continues to present us.”

Honouring Burton’s legacy

Sally Burton, who donated many of her late husband’s belongings to Swansea University in 2005, also shared her excitement for people to engage with Burton in a way that has not previously been possible.

“I think everyone who met him felt it.  People were drawn to him,” she said. “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, [and] I believe this exhibition … will enable us to explore some of those intriguing answers.”

Becoming Richard Burton is open at National Museum Cardiff until April 2021.

Richard Burton factfile
  • Born Richard Jenkins, Burton took his surname from a teacher who became his legal guardian after both his parents died
  • He was married five times over the course of his life, including twice to fellow actor Elizabeth Taylor
  • His role as Prince Hal in a play of Henry IV ultimately launched his Hollywood career, grabbing the attention of stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
  • His first Hollywood movie was My Cousin Rachel, an adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier novel that earned him an Oscar nomination
  • Burton would go on to score six other Oscar nominations for films such as The Robe, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Equus, but would retire from acting without winning any of them
Burton served in the RAF between 1943 and 1947 (Credit: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University)