The Queen: Portraits of a Monarch

Portrait of The Queen wearing a drak Admiral's cloack against a plain background by the photographer Cecil Beaton in 1968.

The Drawings Gallery, Windsor Castle
23 November 2012 - 9 June 2013

Her Majesty The Queen has been portrayed by some of our most accomplished artists and photographers during her 60-year reign.  This autumn, a new exhibition at Windsor Castle presents a selection of official, commissioned and formal portraits that highlight the diverse ways in which Her Majesty has been represented in different media throughout her six decades on the throne.  Celebrating the Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and the anniversary of the Coronation in 2013, The Queen: Portraits of a Monarch includes work by Andy Warhol, Dorothy Wilding, Pietro Annigoni, Cecil Beaton, Lucian Freud, Rankin and Annie Leibovitz.

Capturing the essence of a sitter has always been the overriding challenge for portrait artists.  When the subject is instantly recognisable to millions around the
world, that challenge requires particular consideration, as many artists have recognised.  Lucian Freud, for whom The Queen sat in 2000-01, was so concerned about the potential difficulty of focusing on the ‘inner likeness’ behind such a famous face that he compared the task to a polar expedition. 

The society photographer Dorothy Wilding was selected as the first to photograph the new Queen following her accession on 6 February 1952.  In this sitting, on 26 February, 59 images of The Queen were produced, showing Her Majesty wearing different combinations of dresses and jewellery, most notably the Diamond Diadem and the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara.  The resulting official portraits were sent to British embassies throughout the world and provided the images for use on coins, banknotes and postage stamps.  The stamps, issued between 1952 and 1971, became known as ‘Wildings’. 

The Queen’s official Coronation portrait was produced in 1953 by the influential portrait photographer Cecil Beaton, who photographed members of the Royal Family many times over half a century.  In October 1968, Beaton made his final portraits of The Queen, for use in his first retrospective exhibition Beaton Portraits 1928-68 at the National Portrait Gallery.  In one photograph, partly inspired by the Italian artist Pietro Annigoni’s 1954 portrait, Beaton shows Her Majesty wearing a dark Admiral’s cloak against a plain background.  The austere presentation was in sharp contrast to the photographer’s earlier royal portraits.  Later the same day, Beaton produced a sparkling portrait of The Queen in a relaxed pose, taken in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace.

Pietro Annigoni’s second portrait of The Queen was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in 1969.  Annigoni took the solitude of the position of the Monarch as his inspiration.  His portrait conveys a regal dignity and commanding presence.  The artist reported that The Queen’s facial expressions were a challenge to capture, because they changed from ‘smiling, thoughtful, determined, uncertain, relaxed, taut’ in rapid succession.  The oil and pastel preparatory study for this portrait, included in the exhibition, was purchased by Her Majesty in 2006.

Andy Warhol, who had a life-long fascination with celebrity and once said, ‘I want to be as famous as the Queen of England’, created images of Her Majesty in 1985 as part of his largest portfolio of screenprints on paper, Reigning Queens.  The prints, purchased for the Royal Collection in 2012, are from the Royal Edition, which is sprinkled with ‘diamond dust’ – fine particles of cut or crushed glass which sparkle in the light like diamonds.

The Queen has also been portrayed by some of the greatest contemporary artists, including Lucian Freud, for whom The Queen sat between May 2000 and December 2001 in the Royal Collection picture conservation studio.  The thick application of the paint and the distinctive and dramatic brushwork ensure that the portrait seizes the viewer’s attention.  The work measures just 23.5cm x 15.2cm and was extended in height by 3.5cm to accommodate the Diamond Diadem, which Freud chose to add some time after starting the painting. 

To celebrate the Golden Jubilee of 2002, The Queen commissioned a small number of established photographers to capture her image.  In Rankin’s portrait, The Queen is presented in the immediate foreground and at an unusual angle in front of the throne canopy in the Ballroom at Buckingham Palace.  She appears almost as she would if the viewer was kneeling before her to receive an honour at an Investiture. 

In 2007, Annie Leibovitz photographed The Queen in a series of images to mark Her Majesty’s State Visit to the United States.  She was the first American commissioned to make an official portrait of The Queen.  The atmospheric photographs were taken in the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace and show The Queen wearing Garter Robes and an evening dress. One image shows The Queen wearing the Admiral’s cloak, made famous by Annigoni and then Beaton almost 40 years before.  Although set against the gardens of Buckingham Palace, this portrait was also taken inside the Palace and was digitally superimposed against the landscape backdrop. 

Most recently, The Queen was photographed by John Swannell for her Diamond Jubilee portrait.  Taken in the Centre Room at Buckingham Palace in December 2011, it was released on Accession Day to mark Her Majesty’s 60-year reign.  She is shown wearing a State Dress, the Diamond Diadem and the diamond necklace worn by Queen Victoria for her own Diamond Jubilee photograph of 1897, as well as the blue Garter sash, Garter Star, and the Royal Family Orders of her grandfather, King George V, and father, King George VI.  Through the window, the Queen Victoria Memorial Fountain is visible, forming a visual link between the two monarchs who reached the remarkable milestone of 60 years on the throne.

The exhibition The Queen: Portraits of a Monarch is part of a visit to Windsor Castle. 
Tickets and visitor information: www.royalcollection.org.uk or +44 (0)20 7766 7304.

For further information and photographs, please contact the Royal Collection Press Office, +44 (0)20 7839 1377, press@royalcollection.org.uk. A selection of images is also available from www.picselect.com.

Date: 
Monday, 23 July 2012