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Samuel Beckett

6 of 42 portraits of Samuel Beckett

© Paul Joyce / National Portrait Gallery, London

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Samuel Beckett

by Paul Joyce
platinum print, 1979
9 5/8 in. x 9 1/2 in. (244 mm x 241 mm)
Purchased, 1980
Primary Collection
NPG P157

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Paul Joyce (1944-), Photographer. Artist of 51 portraits, Sitter in 1 portrait.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 295 Read entry

    The leading protagonist of the Theatre of the Absurd and dramatic minimalism, Beckett was born in Foxrock near Dublin, but has lived in France since the 1930s. He was the friend and, to an extent, spiritual heir of James Joyce. Much of his work – novels, short stories and plays – was first written in French, but he is one of the most controversial figures on the English literary scene. His trilogy of novels Molloy (1951), Malone Dies (1958) and The Unnameable (1960) are all desolate interior monologues, occasionally relieved by flashes of last-ditch humour. This mood of tentative despair had its first and fullest dramatic expression in Waiting for Godot (1955), in which the two tramps Estragon and Vladimir endlessly wait for the mysterious Godot. Each act ends with the interchange: ‘Well, shall we go?’ ‘Yes, let’s go’, and the stage direction ‘They do not move’. Late plays have shown an increasing minimalism: Come and Go (1966) is a ‘dramaticule’ of 121 words; Breath (1969) lasts only 30 seconds, and begins with the cry of a newborn baby and ends with the final gasp of a dying man; in Not I (1973) only a disembodied mouth is illuminated on stage, to deliver its fragmentary monologue.

    Paul Joyce had his first exhibition in Nottingham in 1974, and this was followed by ‘Elders’ at the National Portrait Gallery in 1978. He has also written and directed stage plays and several film profiles, among them studies of the film-makers John Huston and Nicolas Roeg. In his portraits his usual habit is to place his sitters in their natural environment, without any attempt at symbolism. However, in the case of Beckett, whom he photographed during a lunch break from rehearsals of his own production of his Happy Days at the Royal Court Theatre, London, he has chosen a location generally evocative of his work, and perhaps more specifically of the play Endgame (1958), in which the blind man Hamm sits in an empty room flanked by two old people, his ‘accursed progenitors’, who spend the action in dustbins.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 43

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1979back to top

Current affairs

Margaret Thatcher becomes the first woman Prime Minster. She came to power with the electoral slogan, 'Labour isn't working', and set about her aim to reverse Britain's economic decline by reducing the role of the state in the economy and championing entrepreneurship and the free market.

Art and science

Monty Python's Life Of Brian, is released causing controversy, but gaining box-office success and classic status. The film is in many ways a classic farce, with much of its humour deriving from the mistaken identity of the protagonist, Brian Cohen. But, as his mother tells us: 'He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy.'


Mother Teresa is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 'for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace.' Mother Theresa established the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India; an organisation that pledged to give 'Wholehearted and Free service to the poorest of the poor.'
Soviet troops invade Afghanistan and begin a 10-year occupation, resisted by Mujaheddin Afghan guerrilla fighters.

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