Portrait of Seamus Heaney b.1939 (1974)


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. Seamus Heaney, born near Bellaghy, Co. Derry, is acknowledged as one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. McGuire’s portrait of Heaney was commissioned early in the poet’s career, when he was thirty-four. Other portraits followed but this remains the definitive image and there is in the pose, a sense of suppressed urgency and intent. 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. McGuire often included symbolic objects in his portraits and, like Holbein, meticulously painted and difficult to decipher.