Edward McGuire
Seamus Heaney- Oil on Canvas

Edward McGuire was a renowned portraitist and bird painter from Dublin, highly acclaimed for his iconic representation of Seamus Heaney. This most famous work combines elements of stylised design with hyper-realism, typical to the artist. The poet sits before a window so transparent that it seems it is a wall of perfectly formed leaves, so well-shaped that they appear to be unreal. From out of these leaves emerge the heads of birds, reproduced with the fine detail of an artist that spent his youth studying with a taxidermist. Occurring as it does in the intimate setting of the poet's home as he reads before a bare table, such a background calls to mind Heaney's association both with nature and the power of the imagination. The colour of the leaves pervades an unreal gorgeousness and tropical luxuriance that is only conceivable in the mind of a poet. From out of this brilliant background, the poet stares out in contemplation, his gaze distracted by the text and not fully engaged with the onlooker, while his face vaguely resembles the emerging heads of the birds that peer from out of the fantastic vegetation. In his portrayal of Heaney's facial features McGuire captures the poet's tenuous relationship with reality: his ability to embellish the material world--an ability that finds its source in his engagement with that world. The poet's underlying unity with this world is brought to mind by the creases of Heaney's distinctive attire, which mirror the patterns in the floor below. McGuire therefore reveals the poet as at once united to his environment, while he is also able to transcend it through his reinterpretation of nature.


This combination of the symbolic and perceptible is the hallmark of McGuire's work. His portraits unearth the link between the personality of his subjects and their immediate surroundings--a testament to his dedication to his medium. Indeed, McGuire's technique was so relentless that he only produced four of five portraits a year--engaging his subjects in a number of sittings, so that the canvas could truly bring them to life. McGuire's technical precision can be linked to his apprenticeship both at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma and the Slade School of Fine Art in London. In the 1950s McGuire also struck up a friendship with Lucien Freud: an artist whose representation of the tactility of flesh heavily influenced McGuire's work. In his life-time McGuire produced over twenty-five portraits of writers: a legacy that led to a retrospective exhibition at the Royal Hibernian Academy Gallagher Gallery, as well as a wide range of solo exhibitions in his lifetime. He passed away in 1986, aged just fifty-four.




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Edward McGuire (RHA) Edward McGuire (RHA)
Study 1959
Oil On Canvas, framed
13cm x 15cm (5" x 6")

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