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Poignant portraits of Seamus Heaney to go on display side by side for first time at Ulster Museum

By Rachel Martin

Published 29/08/2015

Artist Colin Davidson with the first commissioned portrait of Seamus Heaney and the last portrait ever to be painted of the celebrated poet and writer
Artist Colin Davidson with the first commissioned portrait of Seamus Heaney and the last portrait ever to be painted of the celebrated poet and writer
A close-up of one of the portraits

Two years on from the death of Seamus Heaney, the Ulster Museum has brought together the first and last portraits of the poet.

The last portait of the poet was finished shortly before his death in 2013.

Artist Colin Davidson told the Belfast Telegraph: "One of the lovely things I was so glad I did was to drive the painting down to his house to let him see it. It was due to go to on display in an exhibition I had on in Queen's at the time and Seamus and his wife had planned to go and see it there, but he passed away two days before the opening, so I was glad I made the effort and that was one of the most enjoyable parts of the process."

The oil painting on canvas will be on display alongside Edward McGuire's portrait painted in 1974.

Kim Mawhinney, head of art at National Museums Northern Ireland, said: "Seamus Heaney was one of Ireland's most important cultural figures and we are pleased to be able to mark the second anniversary of the death of this literary great.

"While different in style and painted 40 years apart, both portraits of Seamus Heaney reflect something of the depth of his intellect, his pose and, I think, a sense of purpose and intent.

"It is poignant to see these two paintings hang beside each other and consider how much this one man achieved and the impact he made on literature and on society between the time these portraits were painted." McGuire's portrait of Heaney (below) was commissioned early in the poet's career, when he was 34. Heaney later spoke of McGuire perceiving in him "a keep of tensions" and that "the gathered-up, pent-up, head-on quality is what I admire" in the portrait. Born in Dublin, McGuire studied at the Slade School in London under Lucian Freud. In 1955 he returned to Dublin and for the rest of his career made a remarkable series of portraits of writers, musicians and friends.

Davidson's painting will be on display alongside the Maguire portrait of Seamus Heaney in New Art, New Nature exhibition at the Ulster Museum running until February 2016.

Admission to the exhibition is free.

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