A portrait of Brian Friel, renowned playwright and author, was unveiled yesterday (Friday 16 July) in the National Gallery of Ireland
by Mary Hanafin, T.D., Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport.
The portrait, by Mick O'Dea RHA, was commissioned in 2009 by the Gallery's Board of Governors and Guardians on the occasion of the playwright's 80th birthday as part of the contemporary portrait series.
Congratulating artist Mick O'Dea for his portraiture, Minister Mary Hanafin said: "Mick O'Dea has produced a thoughtful and sensitive portrait of Brian Friel, who is one of Ireland's most prominent playwrights, theatre directors and authors. Brian has made an enormous contribution to the cultural life of the nation and his influence on current and the new generation of Irish writers is profound. His work has greatly enhanced the reputation of Ireland and Irish theatre. O'Dea's portrait will now add to the wonderful collection at the National Gallery as it records one of our historic figures and major living playwrights."
Friel was born in Omagh, County Tyrone. In 1962, he published his first collection, The Saucer of Larks, and saw his first major theatrical work The Enemy Within produced to critical acclaim. This paved the way for Philadelphia Here I Come!, which was staged as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1964 and firmly established Friel's reputation. He was a founder member in 1980 of Field Day, the theatre company that staged his new play Translations. That work and his more recent Dancing at Lughnasa (1990) have become classics of Irish theatre. Friel has penned more than twenty plays in total, including adaptations of work by such writers as Turgenev and Chekhov, demonstrating consistently both formal innovation and an extraordinary skill in the writing of dialogue.
Clare-born artist, Mick O'Dea has won several awards and has contributed to many exhibitions in Ireland and overseas. In 1996 he was elected both a Royal Hibernian Academician and a member of Aosdána.
In this three-quarter length portrait the artist depicts Friel in contemplative pose and focuses on the playwright's characteristic mannerism in bringing his fingertips together to touch his face, a gesture which enhances the cerebral quality of the portrait.
Raymond Keaveney, Director of the National Gallery said: "We are delighted and honoured to include this portrait of Brian Friel as part of the growing National Portrait Collection. One of the ways in which the National Gallery remains relevant to contemporary society and the contemporary arts is by engaging with the art of portraiture. It is important to keep the tradition of portraiture alive whilst at the same time celebrating the great portraits of the past in the work of artists like William Orpen, whose portrait of John McCormack has proved very popular with the public since it was acquired for the collection last year."