3 min read

Reigning Queens - Warhol's Portraits

Reigning Queens - Warhol's Portraits

In 1985, when Andy Warhol created one of his largest, and final, portfolio of prints, Reigning Queens, which you can now own a share of, he was in the middle of a career resurgence. After a slight slump during the 70s, the art market was bullish once again, and Warhol was front and centre. Still one of the most exciting figures around – but now also one of the most influential.

By the time he got to work on Reigning Queens Warhol’s style had developed somewhat, though more importantly, the whole world had caught up to him. The entire aesthetic of the 80s – primary neon colours, defined angular shapes, striking and immediate imagery – could be traced back to his own work. Warhol needed to do very little, if anything, to be cutting edge all over again.

While his imitators were busy following in his wake, immortalising the new crop of celebrities the decade had provided (Koons with his Michael Jackson and Bubbles sculpture, for instance) Warhol turned his eye to the oldest and most enduring symbol of fame, power, and iconography: Royalty.

He used what would become possibly the most famous image of Queen Elizabeth II, the photograph released for the 1977 Jubilee. It was taken by long-time photographer of the Royals Peter Grugeon, and was notable for its humane simplicity. Warhol was not interested in humane simplicity, however, and set about making the image his own.

Warhol used drawn elements to complicate the Queen’s crown, sash, and necklace. Pulling them from the image without drawing the eye to them. Around this time, Warhol was also adding blocks of neon colour to his work. In Speed Skater, these blocks are overlaid in order to emphasise the dynamism and movement of the figure. In Ingrid Bergman, Herself, these blocks of colour overlay and clash across her profile in a balancing act representing the complexity, beauty, and sensuality of the actress. In Reigning Queens, however, these blocks are firmly in the background, as if Her Majesty is untouchable.

All of these additions form a sort of framing for the real focus of the painting, the Queen’s eyes. Large, intense, open, and yet knowing. Not since Marilyn had Warhol treated eyes with such reverence. But while Marilyn’s half-lidded gaze invited you into a golden world of sex and glamour, Warhol transforms Grugeon’s photograph into a statement of lasting feminine power. Amidst the castles and crowns is a woman strong and elegant enough to bear them.

Warhol was dismayed when Reigning Queens was first exhibited in New York. ‘Nobody cares about Royalty here,’ he complained. Indeed, it is remarkable that a man so steeped in Americana, at the time so specifically a New York staple, would even venture beyond the images relevant there. Yet even in this he was prescient. A few years after his death in 1987, when Princess Diana would increase her charity and public involvement, America would become increasingly infatuated with the British Royal family.

For Warhol, Her Majesty was the ultimate icon. ‘I want to be as famous as the Queen’, he once said – a big statement considering Warhol regarded fame as the ultimate currency. Perhaps this is why Reigning Queens feels like Warhol at his most personal.

Now, with fractional ownership at Showpiece.com, you too have a rare opportunity to own part of the legendary artist’s work, without having to pay record-breaking prices.

-Johnny Vineaux