Samuel Beckett

© The Jane Bown Literary Estate / National Portrait Gallery, London

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Samuel Beckett

by Jane Bown
bromide print, 1976
13 1/8 in. x 19 1/2 in. (335 mm x 493 mm)
Given by Jane Bown and The Observer, 1981 in conjunction with the exhibition 'The Gentle Eye: Photographs by Jane Bown of The Observer'
Primary Collection
NPG P373

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Jane Bown (1925-2014), Photographer. Artist or producer associated with 73 portraits, Sitter in 7 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This was one of three frames Jane Bown took of the famously camera-shy playwright whilst he was directing Billie Whitelaw in Happy Days at The Royal Court. This is considered one of Bown's most iconic photographs.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Writers, p. 122
  • Faces of the Century, 1999 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 22 October 1999 to 30 January 2000), p. 16
  • Bown, Jane, Exposures, 2009, p. 142
  • Jeffares, A. Norman, Character Sketches: The Irish Literary Movement, 1998, p. 12
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 43
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, pp. 238 -239 Read entry

    Born in Dublin, Samuel Beckett studied at Trinity College (1923–7) in his hometown. He became associated with the writer James Joyce while working as an English assistant at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he settled in 1932. Early published work included the poem ‘Whoroscope’ (1930), the collection of short stories More Pricks than Kicks (1934) and Murphy (1938). Most subsequent works were written in French, including the play En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot) on which much of his reputation as an innovator lies. Godot premiered in Paris in 1953 and in London two years later, bringing Beckett’s tragicomic outlook on the human predicament international renown. His later works, including Breath (1970), became increasingly minimal. Beckett was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize for literature and he became a highly influential figure within his own lifetime.

    Jane Bown (b.1925) began her photographic career, and her long association with the Observer, when the newspaper published her portrait of Bertrand Russell in 1949. She is admired for her straightforward, naturally posed, black and white portraits, usually taken with available light. Her published books include The Gentle Eye (1980), which was accompanied by an exhibition at the Gallery, and Exposures (2009).

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1976back to top

Current affairs

Harold Wilson unexpectedly resigns as Prime Minister and is replaced by Leonard James Callaghan. Wilson's resignation honours list caused controversy due to the appearance of a number of wealthy businessmen whose principles were considered anathema to those of the party. It became known as the 'Lavender List' after it was alleged that it was drafted by Marcia Williams, the head of Wilson's political office, on lavender-coloured notepaper.

Art and science

The first commercial Concorde flights are made, operated by British Airways and Air France. The supersonic (faster than the speed of sound) aeroplane was developed through a British and French treaty, and operated until 2003 when it was retired due to falling passenger numbers following a crash in 2000.
The National Theatre opens on the South Bank in London under the artistic directorship of Lord Olivier.


North Vietnam invades and overpowers South Vietnam, reunifying the country as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam under communist rule.
240,000 people die in the Tangshan Earthquake in China; one of the greatest death tolls from an earthquake in history. The event was part of the 'Curse of 1976', a year that also saw the death of Mao Zedong, and the attempted seizure of power by the Gang of Four.

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