The Queen: Art and Image
17 May – 21 October 2012
Celebrating The Queen's 2012 Diamond Jubilee, this touring exhibition explores the changing face of monarchy.
Described by the Director of the National Portrait Gallery as 'the most portrayed person in British history', Queen Elizabeth II has been represented in works that range from formal, official portraits and photographs to unofficial paintings by Warhol, Gilbert and George and Jamie Reid. Few other subjects connect the work of Cecil Beaton and Annie Leibovitz, Lucian Freud and Gerhard Richter. As well as being a celebration of monarchy, The Queen: Art and Image is a journey through the art of portraiture itself.
Spanning the 60 years of The Queen's reign, the exhibition will document the changing perception and value of monarchy and its relationship to our social history. Engaging with events and issues such as the miners' strike, the death of Princess Diana and the changing role of the press, the paintings in the exhibition will be supplemented by newspaper cuttings and news footage, as well as stamps and commemorative ephemera.
Among the largest works in the exhibition is Pietro Annigoni's life-size 1969 portrait Queen Elizabeth II. This is the artist's second image of The Queen, the first being a romantic and stylised portrait painted shortly after her coronation. Here, the tone is rather different, a shift explained by Annigoni himself: 'I did not want to paint her as a film star, I saw her as a monarch, alone in the problem of responsibility.' The picture took ten months and 18 sittings to complete, and its stark formality and monumentality offer a striking contrast to the more irreverent, unofficial images of the exhibition.
One such unofficial image is Andy Warhol's 1985 screenprint series, provocatively entitled Reigning Queens, which includes portraits of Queen Elizabeth II alongside other international monarchs. The portrait plays with Warhol's familiar ideas of advertising and mass production, the repetition of the printed images recalling a sheet of stamps. The impersonality of this presentation is tempered by the pastel colouring as well as the lines of the image itself, traced from an official Silver Jubilee photograph but softened and glamorised by Warhol's hand.