The Queen: Portraits of a Monarch

Andy Warhol

Reigning Queens: Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, 1985
Screenprints in colours with ‘diamond dust’, on Lenox Museum Board, 100.0 x 80.0 cm

From the early 1960s, the American artist Andy Warhol (1928-87) used existing portraits as the basis for many of his prints and paintings.

For his series of screen prints depicting Queen Elizabeth II, made in 1985 as part of his Reigning Queens portfolio, he turned to the official photograph released for the Silver Jubilee in 1977. This had been taken, at Windsor Castle on 2 April 1975 by the photographer Peter Grugeon (1918–80).

Warhol has simplified Grugeon’s portrait so that all that remains is a mask-like face. All character has been removed and we are confronted by a symbol of royal power. By reproducing the same image four times, Warhol demonstrates his interest in mass production and reminds us that Queen Elizabeth II is the most depicted woman in the world.

The format of the prints and his intention that they should be displayed as multiples suggests that Warhol has been inspired to create the postage stamp on a monumental scale. The use of vibrant colours and the introduction of graphic shapes give the prints an air of artificiality.

These particular prints belong to the ‘Royal Edition’ as the outlines have been sprinkled with ‘diamond dust’, fine particles of ground up glass which were applied to the print when wet, and sparkle in the light like diamonds. Unlike all the other works in this exhibition, The Queen did not sit for or commission this portrait. The four prints were acquired for the Royal Collection in 2012.