Imaginary Gallery of Ancient Roman Art, Giovani Paolo Panini, c. 1756
Flashbulb Memories: Remembering HRH Queen Elizabeth II, Through her Portraits
Chris Levine’s ‘Lightness of Being’ (2018)
Queen Elizabeth II’s exceptional, platinum reign of 70 years came to an end on September 8th, 2022; the impact of which created ripples not in the United Kingdom alone, but all around the globe, with several countries paying tribute to the ruler- the mark of a truly loved, and respected figure. The longest reigning monarch in British history, she also fulfilled the duties as Head of the Commonwealth. She oversaw radical changes in decolonisation, and built international relations through the unification of several member nations and states. On a larger scale, she carried generations of Britons through a number of historical events, amongst which were a world war and a global pandemic, with grace and resilience.
However, the Queen was also a great patron of the arts, and had over 129 portraits made of herself! We walk you through 5 different points in time that the art world paid homage to the ‘Queen of the World’:
1. Chris Levine’s ‘Lightness of Being’ (2018)
Taken in honour of 800 years of allegiance to the Crown by the Island of Jersey, this remains one of the most illustrious photographs of Her Majesty by light artist Chris Levine… and it was an accident. A truly candid moment, where the Queen was resting her eyes in between snapshots. Exalting the presence of the Queen by overlaying the snap with fitted Swavroski micro-crystals, ‘Lightness of Being’ not only depicts her in all her royal glory, but is also a moving portrayal of her as a tranquil, calm figure- Levine’s ode to the nature of her rule.
2. Dorothy Wilding’s photographs (1952)
This photographer captured the 25 year old monarch at the peak of her youth, mere days after her ascension to the throne. Her photos not only went on to be used as the official portrait of the Queen in every government organisation, and all British and Commonwealth embassies across the world, but were also famously reproduced on coins and stamps that exist in circulation today.
Oluwole Omofemi’s ‘The Queen’ (2022)
3. Oluwole Omofemi’s ‘The Queen’ (2022)
Nigerian artist Oluwole Omofemi dispensed with his usual way of life for 4 weeks while he worked on this piece; choosing to sleep in a different room to the rest of his family members, and spending every waking moment analysing his muse. Claiming that this was the ‘most important project of his life so far’, Omofemi altered his usual artistic style to not only create an accurate depiction of the Queen, but also what sentiments she popularly represented. Amalgamating his own perception of the Queen’s goodness and tenacity with culturally influenced designs and patterns, the artist’s depiction is quite different to anything that has been created before. His perspective shines through in certain elements of the portrait; for instance, the Queen is seen sporting bright flower patterns, and contradictory to her actual features, has lustrous black locks framing her face- Omofemi’s take on this trait representing her power and identity.
4. Elizabeth Peyton’s ‘Queen Elizabeth Aged 16 (after Benton) (1996)
This namesake of the Queen’s is a contemporary American artist, known for producing intimate artwork. Peyton attempts, through her pieces, to incorporate a humanistic touch in her work and depict her subjects as being more than just their titles. Her delicate charcoal sketch features the Queen as a young girl, prompting a new narrative of the Queen, distinct from the idolatry usually accompanying Her Majesty’s portraits.
Pietro Annigoni’s ‘Queen Elizabeth II’ (1969)
5. Pietro Annigoni’s ‘Queen Elizabeth II’ (1969)
Italian painter Pietro Annigoni introduced renaissance flair into his portraiture of the royal. Commissioned by the Queen herself, who was extremely pleased with his previous painting of her from the period of her Coronation, Annigoni took an astounding 10 months to complete this piece. He later explained that the time taken to complete the painting resulted from a desire to change his initial approach to painting the Queen as a romantic figure; and to instead skilfully produce a portrait that would present the Queen as stoic, and a great upholder of burdens and responsibilities.