Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom Andy Warhol Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom Andy Warhol
1 August 2022

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom

Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol’s portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II captures the power, dignity and, of course, beauty of Britain’s longest serving monarch. The portrait was created as part of the artist’s Reigning Queens series of 1985 and has become one of the most iconic artistic portrayals of The Queen’s image.

For his portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, Warhol appropriated an official photograph of Her Majesty taken by Peter Grugeon (1918-1980) at Windsor Castle in April 1975 and later released in 1977 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee. In it, The Queen faces the viewer wearing a collection of Royal Jewels: the Vladimir tiara, Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee necklace, Queen Alexandra's wedding earrings and the Family Orders of King George V and King George VI on the Garter sash.[i] Warhol crops the composition so that the only Family Order visible is that of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II's father whose early passing resulted in her Coronation in 1953 at the age of just 27. Still, this remains a poignant symbol of the personal family relationships behind the legacy of the British Royal Family.

For decades, Queen Elizabeth II has been one of the most represented individuals across the globe. Reproduction of this particular Silver Jubilee image was extensive, appearing on commemorative merchandise as well as banknotes across the Commonwealth from New Zealand to the Bahamas. In selecting this image, Warhol consciously engaged with the role image distribution played in upholding the international fame of The Queen, transforming her into a symbol, or brand, of Britain; he once declared, 'I want to be as famous as the Queen of England'.[ii]

As Matt Wrbican, Archivist of The Warhol in Pittsburgh, attests, 'the halls of royal castles and the inheritors of Crown Jewels were an obsession for most of his [Warhol's] life'.[iii] With their regal paraphernalia and assertive poses, the Reigning Queens are unique in Warhol's oeuvre for their reverential formality, though enlivened by the artist's signature Pop style. In Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom Warhol simplifies, and so amplifies, the key components of the image. The Queen's features are smoothed, the contrast between dark and light areas is heightened and bold outlines to the contours of her face and dress are added. As described by art historian and professor Cécile Whiting, in such portraits Warhol 'exaggerated the appearance and style of both the subjects themselves and the mass-produced photographic images by which they are known'. Whiting continues that Warhol's paintings are not about 'real people at all, but about their public image in its purest form'.[iv]

Testament to their art historical significance, Warhol's portraits of Queen Elizabeth II are held in some of the most prestigious public collections in the UK, notably those of Tate and the National Portrait Gallery. In 2012, a Royal Edition portfolio was acquired by The Royal Collection to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee and was exhibited at Windsor Castle in the exhibition The Queen: Portraits of a Monarch. Appropriately, considering the circumstances of this royal acquisition, the Royal Edition of Reigning Queens is finished with finely applied lines of the art material 'diamond dust', sparkly crystals of cut glass which exaggerate the glamour and majesty of this extraordinary monarch.

[i] Royal Collection Trust, 'Warhol Portraits Acquired for the Royal Collection', 24 September 2012

[ii] Andy Warhol quoted in David Carrier, 'Andy Warhol's moving Pictures of Modern Life', Notes in the History of Art, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Spring, 1997) p. 3

[iii] Matt Wrbican, 'Minding his Ps and Qs: Warhol's Royals and Other Queens' in Henriette Dedichen (ed.), Warhol's Queens (Hatje Cantz, 2013), p. 104

[iv] Cécile Whiting, 'Andy Warhol, the Public Star and the Private Self', Oxford Art Journal, vol. 10, no. 2, The 60s (1987), p. 58
(Image) Portrait of Andy Warhol (1928 - 1987) as he holds a silkscreen print of Queen Elizabeth II in his studio, the Factory, New York, New York, 1985. (Photo by Derek Hudson/Getty Images)

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