Portrait of the artists: Danish painter donates work depicting Irish writers

National Library of Ireland officially accepts donaion from Claus Havemann

The National Library of Ireland officially accepted the donation of a painting by Danish artist Claus Havemann at a special event in the library on Tuesday.

The work, titled Irish Eyes, takes the form of a rectangular grid featuring the eyes of 12 of Ireland's most famous writers and poets, from Seamus Heaney and James Joyce to Edna O'Brien (the only living subject).

Havemann, who has been coming to Ireland for 40 years, spends six months each year on Sherkin Island.

Last year, he donated another “eyes” picture, of nine leaders of the 1916 Rising, which now hangs in Richmond Barracks.


NLI chair Paul Shovlin thanked the artist for donating "this magnificent work", and said it was important that it would be displayed in the Seminar Room, which he described as the heart of the library's outreach programme. "Throughout the year, the library holds lectures, talks, workshops and theatrical events in this room," he said. "It is very fitting that so many of Ireland's great literary figures are now watching over proceedings."

Havemann told the audience that painting was a language, just as writing was. “Because I have dyslexia, I have read a lot of books but I’m not sure I understand all the time what I’m reading,” he said. “But I particularly liked Kavanagh and Flann O’Brien.”

Speaking at the event, teacher and editor Niall MacMonagle told those present that readers would bring what they knew of each writer to their portrait, and quoted Cicero: “The face is a picture of the mind with the eyes as its interpreter.”

Hugh Linehan

Hugh Linehan

Hugh Linehan is Arts and Culture Editor. He also presents the weekly Inside Politics podcast