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

First Previous 2 OF 8 NextLast

A.S. Byatt (Portrait of A S Byatt : Red, Yellow, Green and Blue : 24 September 1997)

2 of 8 portraits of A.S. Byatt

© Estate of Patrick Heron/ DACS, 2021

5 Likes 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

A.S. Byatt (Portrait of A S Byatt : Red, Yellow, Green and Blue : 24 September 1997)

by Patrick Heron
oil on canvas, 1997
38 1/8 in. x 47 7/8 in. (968 mm x 1216 mm) overall
Commissioned, 1998
Primary Collection
NPG 6414

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Patrick Heron (1920-1999), Painter and art critic. Artist of 5 portraits, Sitter in 15 portraits.

This portraitback to top

A. S. Byatt's portrait was the third by Patrick Heron to enter the Gallery's collection, painted some 50 years after his well-known semi-cubist image of T. S. Eliot. Painted in his St. Ives studio, Heron's distinction as a leading abstract artist was relevant to the sitter's wishes: 'a picture of what I really feel like when I am working at full speed... a portrait of somebody who might conceivably write a book. What I wanted was the presence of the idea of me.'

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 136
  • Audio Guide
  • Howgate, Sarah; Nairne, Sandy, A Guide to Contemporary Portraits, 2009, p. 4 Read entry

    The portrait of novelist A. S. Byatt (b. 1936) was the third by Patrick Heron to enter the Gallery’s Collection and was painted some fifty years after his semi-cubist image of T. S. Eliot. Heron’s distinction as an abstract artist was relevant to the sitter’s wishes: ‘What I wanted was the presence of the idea of me.’ The portrait was the result of three visits to Heron’s studio in St Ives, Cornwall.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 95
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 253 Read entry

    The novels of acclaimed writer A. S. Byatt include The Virgin in the Garden (1978), the first in the Frederica quartet, the Booker Prize-winning Possession (1990) and The Biographer’s Tale (2000). She is also a critic and essayist, writing on art history, literary history and philosophy. When the National Portrait Gallery began discussions with the writer about a possible portrait, she expressed her admiration for the semi-cubist portrait of the poet T. S. Eliot (1949) by Patrick Heron (1920–99), now in the Gallery’s Collection. Still active at his studio in Zennor, Cornwall, Heron accepted the Gallery’s invitation to paint Byatt, and she wrote a compelling account of the process for the Gallery’s records. During her first sitting, she noted that artist and writer share an apprehension of the blank page, ‘only in the case of a portrait, this anxiety is doubled, both sitter and artist are anxious’. The final portrait emerged from drawings and paintings made over several months. It evokes the sitter’s creative intellect and is, according to Byatt when interviewed for the Guardian newspaper in 2006, ‘a picture of what I really feel like when I am working at full speed. It is a picture of somebody who might conceivably write a book.’

Placesback to top

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1997back to top

Current affairs

The Labour party - re-branded as New Labour - win a spectacular landslide election and Tony Blair becomes Prime Minister. Their electoral campaign promised that 'things can only get better' and that their priorities would be 'education, education, education.' While New Labour's 'third way' centralist approach put off some party traditionalists, it secured the popular vote.
Princess Diana and her lover Dodi Fayed die in a car crash in Paris.

Art and science

J.K. Rowling publishes Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the first of seven fantasy books chronicling the life of Harry and his friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry: learning magic, breaking school rules, romantic entanglements and their struggles against the evil Lord Voldemort.
Scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland announce that they have cloned the first mammal from an adult cell: '6LL3', or Dolly the Sheep.


Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten hands the island back to China after one hundred and fifty years as a British Colony. Although sovereignty was restored to China, it was agreed that the Island would become a 'Special Administrative Region' under the 'One Country, Two Systems' principle, effectively keeping its capitalist economy and way of life for a period of 50 years.

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.


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.


Our channel

View a wide collection of video content on our YouTube channel from past projects to our latest films.

Sit back and watch

Artist and sitter interviews

Get insights into creating portraiture from BP Portrait Award 2020 artists and their sitters.

Explore behind the scenes

Sleeping Awake

Watch our film created to say ‘goodbye’ to the Gallery before we closed for our major transformation project.

Hear our story