The Queen: Portraits of a Monarch

John Merton

HM Queen Elizabeth II
Metalpoint on gesso-prepared board
42.5 cm (diameter)

This portrait of the Queen was drawn as part of a series of portraits of members of the Order of Merit.

The Order was founded by King Edward VII in 1902, and is awarded to those who ‘have rendered exceptionally meritorious service in Our Crown Services or towards the advancement of the Arts, Learning, Literature, and Science’.

Membership of the Order is in the sole gift of the Sovereign and is limited to 24 individuals. Current members include Sir David Attenborough, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and David Hockney.

In 1987 Her Majesty began to acquire portrait drawings of each member of the Order. Each drawing was commissoned from a different artist. The Queen’s own portrait, shown here, was drawn by John Merton (1913-2011) after a series of sittings, and was presented to Her Majesty in August 1989.

Known for his meticulous portraits, Merton developed an unconventional manner of working. First, he would take hundreds of photographic slides of his subject using a stereo camera, varying the lighting, attitude and expression of his sitter. Back in his studio he would use a binocular viewer to work up the portrait from these slides. When work was almost complete, a final sitting allowed him to make adjustments to the portrait from the life. Merton’s portrait of The Queen is executed in metalpoint – a technique more commonly associated with artists of the Italian Renaissance such as Leonardo da Vinci.