A new portrait of the writer, Edna O’Brien, has been purchased by the state and will be installed at the Irish Embassy in London later this year.
The painting by artist, Colin Davidson, was unveiled at an event in London last night, attended by the Co. Clare-born novelist and Ireland’s ambassador to the UK, Adrian O’Neill.
Edna O’Brien emigrated to London in 1958. Her first novel, The Country Girls, was published two years later in 1960.
She established an international reputation as a novelist, short-story writer, memoirist, poet and playwright. In a 2012 review of her Memoir, former President Mary Robinson referred to her as one of the great creative writers of her generation.
She continues to live in London and celebrated her 90th birthday last December.
Speaking at last night’s event, Ambassador O’Neill said he was delighted that “thanks to Edna’s blessing and Colin’s co-operation, the portrait will have its permanent home at the Embassy of Ireland in London.”
He said: “In years to come I am sure visitors to the Embassy will gaze on the portrait and be delighted that the Country Girl has returned home.”
Edna O Brien recalled some of the experience when she sat for Colin Davidson at her London home last September. She said a whole sluice gate opened and things she had not thought about for 80 or 85 years began to reappear.
She said: ‘I felt was being stripped but stripped in a good way that would be necessary to what would be eventually on the painting.’
She said as a person and a writer she wants ‘never to lose my past and never to lose my earliest feelings and impressions and fears and all else.’
The artist, Colin Davidson, said he hopes that the portrait captures some sense of spirit and courage of a remarkable woman. He said to Edna O Brien “ you are very much loved and appreciated. You have written modern Irish history in your own way and we thank you for that.”
The portrait is 50 x 46 inches, similar in size to Davidson portraits of Queen Elizabeth, Seamus Heaney, President Higgins, John Hume, Christy Moore and Brad Pitt.
Colin Davidson is also the creator of the Silent Testimony series, individual portraits of eighteen people who experienced loss during Northern Ireland’s Troubles.