The Ulster Museum is marking the second anniversary of the death of Seamus Heaney by displaying, for the first time together, the first commissioned portrait of Heaney and the last portrait ever to be painted of him.
National Museums Northern Ireland’s latest acquisition is Colin Davidson’s Portrait of Seamus Heaney which was painted just months before Heaney’s death in 2013. The oil painting on canvas will be on display alongside Edward McGuire’s Portrait of Seamus Heaney which was painted in 1974.
Kim Mawhinney, Head of Art at National Museums Northern Ireland, said, “Seamus Heaney was one of Ireland’s most important cultural figures and we are pleased to be able to mark the second anniversary of the death of this literary great. While different in style and painted forty years apart, both portraits of Seamus Heaney reflect something of the depth of his intellect, his pose and, I think, a sense of purpose and intent. It is deeply poignant to see these two paintings hang beside each other and consider how much this one man achieved and the impact he made on literature and on society between the time these portraits were painted.”
Edward McGuire’s portrait of Heaney was commissioned early in the poet’s career, when he was thirty-four. Heaney later spoke of McGuire perceiving in him ‘a keep of tensions’ and that ‘the gathered-up, pent-up, head-on quality is what I admire’ in the portrait. Born in Dublin, McGuire studied at the Slade School in London under Lucian Freud. In 1955 he returned to Dublin and for the rest of his career, made a remarkable series of portraits of writers, musicians and friends.
Internationally acclaimed Co. Down artist Colin Davidson was the last person to paint the Nobel Prize winning Laureate, the year before he died. Since 2010, Colin Davidson has become renowned for his series of large-scale portraits of famous actors, musicians, poets and writers. The artist, who lives in Bangor, has won numerous international awards for his work.
Seamus Heaney, born near Bellaghy, Co. Derry, is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The paintings will be on display in the New Art, New Nature exhibition at the Ulster Museum until February 2016. Admission is free.