With the serigraph of the queen, Warhol – as always – toyed with the idea of celebrity and dissected the relationship between the subject and the public figure. The image is based on an official photographic portrait taken in 1975, shortly before his 49th birthday. The queen, wearing a tiara, has blue eyes, regal and beautiful, but also outlined and abstract in color blocks.
Photographs of Queen Elizabeth, taken by Dorothy Wilding in 1952, on display as part of the 2012 ‘The Queen: Portraits of a Monach’ exhibition at Windsor Castle. Credit: Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images
As British historian David Cannadine once noted, the Queen was “probably the most visually depicted and depicted individual that has ever existed through the entire span of human history”. She reigned so long that one can only venture to guess the number of images.
“Queen Elizabeth II” by Pietro Annigoni was commissioned by the trustees of the National Portrait Gallery in 1969. Credit: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Later British photographers – including Antony Armstrong-Jones, the Earl of Snowdon and the Queen’s former brother-in-law; and Patrick Lichfield, one of her cousins and the Earl of Lichfield – opted for informality and naturalism, and we got to know her a little better in the process. We were offered glimpses of the Queen and her family in domestic situations, both at play and at work. Television crews began to have unusual access for documentaries.
Society photographer Cecil Beaton, who took this picture of Queen Elizabeth with her bridesmaids on her coronation day in 1953, captured many of the late monarch’s most important occasions. Credit: Print Collector/Hulton Archives/Getty Images
But perhaps the real revolution in our perception of the Queen came from members of the press – and their telephoto lenses. They provided some of the most intimate and intimate walking moments. We could see her react in shock to the fire at Windsor Castle in 1992, solemnly and silently survey the sea of floral tributes to Princess Diana outside the gates of Buckingham Palace in 1997 and shed a tear at the funeral of her sister in 2002. These images made her seem more human and sympathetic.
An observer takes a closer look at Gerhard Richter’s painting of the Queen from 1967. Credit: Rune Hellestad/Corbis via Getty Images
As in the manner of the German artist, his image was slightly blurred, the colors and his features exaggerated. The queen looks unreal, if not surreal. She’s still recognizable but somehow creepy not herself; she looks uncomfortable, as if suppressing a nervous laugh. It’s unclear why Richter painted her like that – he never gave an explanation.
The sessions were spread over several months, between May 2000 and December 2001. At the start, the artist was 77 years old; the queen was 74 years old. The result, painted in heavy impasto, was tiny (just 9 by 6 inches) and, predictably, controversial. Freud’s pictorial forensic eye was unwavering.
Lucian Freud’s painting of the queen seemed the antithesis of earlier, romanticized depictions of the queen. Credit: Sion Touhig/Getty Images
Freud had asked her to wear the diadem crown, as seen in some of Wilding’s photographs. The crown is worn slightly inclined. She is pensive, a little downcast, a little tired perhaps. She has seen and been through a lot. The painting was – as many newspapers pointed out – unflattering, the antithesis of Annigoni’s dreamy 1950s portraiture. Freud donated the painting to the Royal Collection. The Queen has never commented on it publicly.
Would it have been to the taste of Prince Philip? Probably not. Himself an amateur painter, he knew precisely what he liked. Her private collection includes a painting of the Queen on horseback at the Trooping the Color ceremony. It was painted by his friend, English post-impressionist artist and royal favorite Edward Seago. In the uniform of the Grenadier Guards (white feathered hat and red coat), the Queen looked simply and recognizably gorgeous.
Top image: A print of Queen Elizabeth by Andy Warhol being adjusted by a Bonhams Auctioneers employee.