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Seamus Heaney

3 of 24 portraits of Seamus Heaney

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Seamus Heaney

by Peter Edwards
pencil, 1987
15 3/4 in. x 13 in. (400 mm x 330 mm) overall
Given by Bonhams: London: UK, 2015
Primary Collection
NPG 7003

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Peter Edwards (1955-), Painter. Artist or producer of 7 portraits, Sitter in 2 portraits.

This portraitback to top

A pencil drawing made in 1987 around the time that the artist painted a number of portraits of the sitter, including the painting in the Gallery’s collection NPG 6023. It is a preparatory drawing for another portrait of Heaney in a similar pose. Unlike the Gallery’s portrait, which shows the sitter in an interior setting, this drawing is inscribed ‘Seamus in the garden/191 Strand Road Dublin/July 87/PE’, suggesting that the work was made from life outdoors. The artist was staying at the United Arts Club in Dublin when he visited Heaney. The ease of sitting for Edwards is noted by Heaney in Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney, 2008.

In Autumn 2018, five years after Seamus Heaney's death, the Royal Society of Literature and the National Portrait Gallery celebrated the lasting power of Heaney's verse, his ability to 'credit marvels', and his enduring presence in the work of poets writing now. Poets Inua Ellams and Sinéad Morrissey, as well as novelist and friend of Seamus Heaney, Andrew O'Hagan, were commissioned to respond to portraits of Seamus Heaney held by the National Portrait Gallery, drawing upon both the images themselves as well as the ways in which Seamus Heaney's writing has influenced their own work. We are grateful to the T. S. Eliot Estate for sponsoring this project.

Wood Work /
For Seamus Heaney
& Peter Edwards.

By Inua Ellams

What I have come to know of journeys / is that most start with a turn / in the morning / Some phrase / glimmer / some sound noses into sleep / as a mole might snuffle through soil / nudging echoes of words / faint seeds to deeds / Good Morning / sprouts into air and life begins / Following the ghostly scaffolds in its DNA / the growcodes sketched in its cells / the seed stretches to root and stem / base and branch / It bears witness to our comings and goings / the kid clenched in the palm of its pram braying for freedom / teenagers engrossed in utmost gossip / couples kissing as if digging for hidden vowels / adults falling out / their tongues aflame / All its years / it takes in our precious vibrations / our treacherous human and hallowed ways / our boiling skies / our dying forests / our chainsaw teeth / our ravenous factories / where we thin it to slim limbs of wood / which you hold / to continue its task of sketching into existence / of sketching out again

See also NPG 6261 and NPG P1672

Related worksback to top

Placesback to top

  • Place made: Ireland (Strand Road, Dublin)

Events of 1987back to top

Current affairs

Hurricane-force winds batter southern England, blowing-down trees, and damaging buildings, blocking roads and causing 19 deaths. The storm was not predicted by the Met Office, a fact that is often jeeringly referred to by quoting Michael Fish's response to a report that 'there was a hurricane on the way…don't worry… there isn't' (the report was actually referring to Florida, not the UK).

Art and science

Alan Bennett's series of monologues Talking Heads is aired by the BBC. The series featured a set of characters that show the secret lives of the English: their dreams, frustrations, and fantasies. The impressive cast included Dame Thora Hird, Patricia Routledge, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters and Bennett himself.


The second largest ever one-day percentage decline in the stock market is named Black Monday. The Dow Jones index in the USA dropped dramatically followed by similar drops around the world. It is still unclear what exactly caused the crash, although worldwide panic selling certainly made it escalate.
Terry Waite is taken hostage while trying to negotiate the release of four men held by the Islamic Jihad in Beirut.

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