The Queen: Portraits of a Monarch

Lucian Freud

HM Queen Elizabeth II
Oil on canvas
23.5 x 15.2 cm

Lucian Freud (1922-2011) compared the task of painting The Queen with that associated with a polar expedition. As an artist who was accustomed to painting his family and friends, he was acutely aware of the need to focus on the ‘inner likeness’ behind such a recognisable face. Freud attempted to make his task more manageable by using a small canvas only 20 cm high, as that would require fewer sittings. He also decided to depict only The Queen’s head and shoulders, rather than paint a full-length image. However, once work had commenced, Freud decided to add the Diamond Diadem, perhaps to make the figure more immediately recognisable, and so had to extend the upper edge of his canvas by 3.5 cm.

Photographs by Freud’s assistant, the painter and photographer David Dawson (b.1960), capture the artist at work and provide a valuable insight into the process of painting a portrait.

No portrait of The Queen has divided opinion quite as strongly as this small, expressive oil painting.