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Seamus Heaney

17 of 24 portraits of Seamus Heaney

© Tai-Shan Schierenberg / National Portrait Gallery, London

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Seamus Heaney

by Tai-Shan Schierenberg
oil on canvas, 2004
38 in. x 36 in. (967 mm x 915 mm) overall
Purchased, 2005
Primary Collection
NPG 6703

Sitterback to top

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This portraitback to top

This psychologically penetrating interpretation of one of the leading poets of the late twentieth century offers an interesting counterpoint to the younger Heaney encountered in the whole length portrait by Peter Edwards also in the collection. Schierenberg's portrait came about as a result of a commission for Queen's University, Belfast, where Heaney is Chancellor.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Writers, p. 154
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 268 Read entry

    Irish poet Seamus Heaney was one of the most renowned voices in poetry in the twentieth century, both critically praised and popular. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, the jury praised him for ‘works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past’. His first collection of poems, Death of a Naturalist (1966) was published to immediate critical acclaim. Other books of verse include Door into the Dark (1969), The Spirit Level (1996) and a much-praised modern translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf (1999). In the early 1990s he was Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford and had a long relationship with Harvard University, which contributed to his significant international reputation.

    Painted by Tai-Shan Schierenberg (b.1962), this portrait arose from a commission by Queen’s University Belfast, where Heaney had been Chancellor. A formal portrait had been selected for that setting while this more introspective version was acquired by the Gallery. In a letter to the Gallery after its acquisition of the portrait in 2005, Heaney - echoing the rural imagery of his own early poems - wrote that he admired the work for its ‘blocked-in, blocked-out presence, the field ‘n’ farm pigments, and the general honest-to-earth quality.’

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Events of 2004back to top

Current affairs

Armed robbers raid the Northern Bank in Belfast, stealing £26.5 million. Gunmen entered the homes of two bank officials, kidnapping their families and forcing them to let them into the bank, before loading cash into vans and driving away. Police and the British and Irish governments claimed that the Provisional IRA was responsible and several of the people arrested had PIRA, Real IRA and Sinn Féin connections.

Art and science

A fire at Charles Saatchi's art warehouse destroys some of the icons of Brit Art. Hell by Jake and Dinos Chapman, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With and The Hut by Tracey Emin and works by Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili, Sarah Lucas, Gavin Hume and Rachel Whiteread were among the casualties.


An earthquake in the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day causes a tsunami that kills nearly 230,000 people when it hit the coasts of Southeast Asia. The earthquake itself was the second most powerful ever recorded on a seismograph and waves from the tsunami - the most devastating in history - were up to 30 metres high.

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