The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Advanced Collection search

T.S. Eliot

© Patrick Heron/ DACS 2019

 Like voting
is closed

Thanks for Liking

Please Like other favourites!
If they inspire you please support our work.

Make a donation Close
  • Use this image
  • ShareShare this

T.S. Eliot

by Patrick Heron
oil on canvas, 1949
30 in. x 24 3/4 in. (762 mm x 629 mm)
Purchased with help from the Contemporary Art Society, 1965
Primary Collection
NPG 4467

On display in Room 31 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Patrick Heron (1920-1999), Painter and art critic. Artist of 5 portraits, Sitter in 14 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Painted the year after Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, this portrait is a happy collaboration between two of the leading contemporary theoreticians and practitioners of poetry and painting. Both held radical positions, both were concerned with ideas in the abstract, and both were immensely influential. In 1972, in the introduction to his retrospective at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, Heron said that colour had become his 'most persistent concern. It is the interaction of colours, the 'meeting lines' or 'frontiers' between colours which are crucial.'

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 118
  • Audio Guide
  • 100 Writers, p. 86
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 54 Read entry

    Painted the year after Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, this portrait is a happy collaboration between two of the leading contemporary theoreticians and practitioners of modern poetry and painting. Abstraction and figuration blend into a complex portrait.

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 97
  • Gibson, Robin, Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, 1996, p. 115
  • Gibson, Robin, 20th Century Portraits, 1978 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 9 June - 17 September 1978), p. 50
  • Gibson, Robin; Clerk, Honor, 20th Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1993, p. 19 Read entry

    Although Eliot's eclecticism has laid him open to charges of obscurity, he remains arguably the greatest modern poet of the English language. The anti-romanticism and intellectual toughness of The Wasteland (1922) deposed the poetry of Eliot's Georgian contemporaries and became the dominant literary influence on young writers of the time. Eliot's later poems such as Ash Wednesday (1930) and The Four Quartets (1944) and his verse play Murder in the Cathedral (1935) reflect the Christian belief that played an increasingly important role in his life and work.

    The portrait by Epstein was commissioned by the playwright Ashley Dukes, a friend of both the sculptor and Eliot. The study by Patrick Heron is the definitive version of three portraits of Eliot by the artist and close in style to Heron's painting of Herbert Read, also in the Gallery's collection.

  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 97
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 203
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 203 Read entry

    Patrick Heron has himself described how he came to undertake his well-known portrait of the poet T.S. Eliot: 'I wrote to Eliot in January, 1947, saying that I had for a long time been thinking around the problem of a portrait, and asking him if he would object to this; and, if not, if he'd give me sittings. He replied very charmingly, giving his consent and saying that he "had, of course been warned of your interest in the possibilities of my features". (He must have heard of this from my father, who knew him.) The drawings, and one study in oils, were made at sittings during 1947 and 1949: but the Portrait which you now have was made about a year after I'd had the last of these sittings, that is, towards the end of 1949, I think. It was first shown in an exhibition I held at the Redfern Gallery in April-May 1950.' This provides all the information one needs about the portrait but perhaps fails to convey its significance as an attempt to keep alive the conventions of portraiture through Cubism, so that Eliot is seen simultaneously both full face and in profile.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 199
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 219 Read entry

    The genesis of this painting of T. S. Eliot by Patrick Heron (1920–99) was a drawing made from life on 4 March 1947. Two months earlier, the young, relatively unknown painter had written to Eliot, one of the twentieth century’s greatest poets, asking whether he would be willing to sit for a portrait. Encouraged by a positive response, Heron visited Eliot in his office at the publishers Faber & Faber, where he was a director. An electricity crisis meant that there was no heating, so Eliot awaited his visitor wearing a blue overcoat, references to which can be seen in the completed painting. Observing the writer of The Waste Land (1922) and Four Quartets (1943), both landmarks in modern literature, Heron recalled ‘finding myself looking into the grey eye of this greatest of living writers, and feeling that I was looking into the most conscious eye in the universe.’ At that time, Heron’s art was influenced by Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, and their example is evident. Subsequent drawings from life, and related experimental studies, underpinned a progressively abstracted image incorporating a double profile. This drew on observation but eventually was made, over a period of nearly three years, from memory.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1949back to top

Current affairs

Following the Republic of Ireland Act in 1948, the Irish Free State becomes the Republic of Ireland and leaves the Commonwealth. The functions previously given to the King were handed to the President of Ireland.
The Second Parliament Act diminishes the power of the House of Lords, reducing their authority to delay bills from two years to one.

Art and science

George Orwell publishes his dystopian novel, 1984. The book imagines a future where totalitarian governments rule; their power based on continual war abroad, and overwhelming propaganda and surveillance at home. With 'Big Brother' keeping a constant check on the citizens' actions and thoughts, the individual loses the faculties of free will and independent thought.

International

The People's Republic of China is created after the Communist Party wins the Civil War. China became a communist country under Mao Zedong.
Cold War tensions increase as Germany is split into the democratic Federal Republic of Germany in the west (a union of the post-war British, French and American sectors), and the communist German Democratic Republic, in the east.

Tell us more back to top

Can you tell us more about this portrait? Spotted an error, information that is missing (a sitter’s life dates, occupation or family relationships, or a date of portrait for example) or do you know anything that we don't know? If you have information to share please complete the form below.

If you require information from us, please use our Archive enquiry service. You can buy a print of most illustrated portraits. Select the portrait of interest to you, then look out for a Buy a Print button. Prices start at £6 for unframed prints, £25 for framed prints. If you wish to license this image, please use our Rights and Images service.

Please note that we cannot provide valuations.

We digitise over 8,000 portraits a year and we cannot guarantee being able to digitise images that are not already scheduled.

What can you tell us?close

There are occasions when we are unsure of the identity of a sitter or artist, their life dates, occupation or have not recorded their family relationships. Sometimes we have not recorded the date of a portrait. Do you have specialist knowledge or a particular interest about any aspect of the portrait or sitter or artist that you can share with us? We would welcome any information that adds to and enhances our information and understanding about a particular portrait, sitter or artist.

Citationclose

How do you know this? Please could you let us know your source of information.

* Permission to publish (Privacy information)
Privacy Informationclose

The National Portrait Gallery will NOT use your information to contact you or store for any other purpose than to investigate or display your contribution. By ticking permission to publish you are indicating your agreement for your contribution to be shown on this collection item page. Please note your email address will not be displayed on the page nor will it be used for any marketing material or promotion of any kind.

Please ensure your comments are relevant and appropriate. Your contributions must be polite and with no intention of causing trouble. All contributions are moderated.

Your Emailclose

Contributions are moderated. We'll need your email address so that we can follow up on the information provided and contact you to let you know when your contribution has been published.