Powerful portrait of Seamus Heaney leads sale of the Irish poet's work at Bonhams

The Roy Davids Collection
Part III. Poetry: Poetical Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets. Volume I: A-K
10 Apr 2013
London, New Bond Street

A deeply characterful portrait of Seamus Heaney by Peter Edwards, who also painted the portrait of the Irish poet which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London, is be auctioned at Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, on 10 April during the sale of Roy Davids Collection Part III: Poetry: Poetical Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets.

Estimated at £6,000-8,000, it is to be sold with the original pencil drawing made at Heaney's Dublin home in 1987 from which the portrait was subsequently painted. Seamus Heaney wrote about the pleasure of sitting for Edwards in his 2008 memoir 'Stepping Stones'.

The portrait is one of several items related to Seamus Heaney in the sale including a number of photographs – one particularly fine image by John Minihan was taken for the poet's 70th birthday in 2009 (estimate £400-600) - and very early handwritten draughts of his poem, 'Song', from the collection, 'Field Work'

The big differences between the draughts and the final printed version of 'Song' show how a poem can develop and take shape as the writer works on his initial idea. For example, the draft lines:

'birch trees stand off among the rushes
Between the bye-road and the motorway
Birch trees, at a wet and sunlit distance
Stand off among the rushes

A girl in a cloche hat
At eight o'clock on a Monday morning...'

become in the printed version:
'A rowan like a lipsticked girl
Between the by-road and the main road
Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
Stand off among the rushes'

Heaney has commented, 'the real inspiration is a little clump of birch-trees standing down a field just off the M1 motorway in Ulster, in Co Tyrone, near a place called King's Island." The draft of 'Song' is estimated at £3,500 – 4,000.

Poetry: Poetical Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets, is the fruit of 40 years of collecting by the poet and scholar Roy Davids and is the finest collection of poetry ever to come to auction. In Mr David's own words, "it would now be impossible for the present collection to be even approximately replicated


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com

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