Marian Keyes portrait unveiled as latest addition to National Gallery

‘I love it; the colours, the textures, the mood,’ says Keyes of painting by artist Margaret Corcoran

A portrait of best-selling Irish author Marian Keyes has been unveiled at the National Gallery of Ireland.

The oil painting, entitled The Composition – A Portrait of Marian Keyes, painted by Dublin-born artist Margaret Corcoran was unveiled as the latest addition to the national portrait collection at a ceremony on February 9th.

The national portrait collection at the National Gallery of Ireland celebrates the most influential figures in Irish history. The fields of Irish endeavour featured in the collection range from sport, literature and broadcasting to theatre and social justice.

Keyes is a multi-award winning author who has sold more than 30 million books worldwide. She was born in Limerick and raised in Cork, Galway and Dublin, and graduated from University College Dublin with a law degree before moving to London in 1986.


She published her first novel, Watermelon, in 1995 and has since published 15 novels in 37 languages.

Keyes said it was a surprise and honour when the gallery invited her to sit for a portrait for inclusion in the national collection.

“Margaret Corcoran and I met and the personal connection was immediate: she’s very warm and wears her talent lightly. We also discovered we’re almost exactly the same age. And I love her work, there’s a playfulness there and a great humanity,” Keyes said.

“I was bowled over by the finished portrait: I love it; the colours, the textures, the mood, the many tiny details. I don’t have the language to analyse art but it feels as if she’s captured me.

“The playfulness that she’s so great at is definitely there. I’m absolutely delighted and incredibly proud of this beautiful honour. May I offer heartfelt gratitude to everyone who made this possible.”

Corcoran, who studied fine art at the National College of Art and Design and the Chelsea School of Art in London, has been inspired by a range of sources, from art and feminist theories to the history of political thought.

Her art reflects her broad range of interests, from social and art history to colonialism, post-colonialism, and mythology.

Corcoran’s work has been displayed in solo and group shows in Ireland and abroad, and features in several prestigious public collections, such as the Office of Public Works and the Arts Council of Ireland.

Corcoran said she associates Keyes with a vibrant colour palette, both in personality and her style and decor, and chose to portray her in the house where she has written many of her books, with yellow walls.

“It was my aim to paint not only a portrait but an image that spoke to the fondness of her readers both nationally and globally. I felt lucky in the process of painting Marian’s portrait to have been accompanied by the astounding exhibition – Lavinia Fontana – at the National Gallery of Ireland,” Corcoran said.

“I titled the painting The Composition – A Portrait of Marian Keyes – because within those walls the act of composition occurs. An imaginary landscape appears to form from her hands – which is the realm that any author lives in during the act of writing. As a painter I too share the act of composition while creating her portrait.”

Dr Caroline Campbell, director of the National Gallery of Ireland said that it was a great honour to unveil the portrait of Keyes.

“Marian’s books mean so much to so many across the island of Ireland and beyond. To have her represented in the National Gallery of Ireland is very exciting. The origins of our national portrait collection date back to 1875,” Dr Campbell said.

“It is regularly being enhanced by commissioned portraits of prominent figures from contemporary Irish life and is a source of joy and fascination for our Irish and international visitors. We know that this new work by Irish artist Margaret Corcoran will be a draw for our audiences young and old.”

A selection of works from the collection will be on display in Room 23 in the Dargan Wing of the gallery in April.

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Ellen O’Donoghue

Ellen O’Donoghue

Ellen O'Donoghue is an Irish Times journalist