Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Queen: Art and Image

Lightness of Being, 2007 by Chris Levine
      Copyright: Chris Levine.
Courtesy of Mr Kevin P.Burke and the Burke Children. Private Collection
I went to a Breakfast meeting at the National Portrait Gallery this morning to hear about an exhibition which will be touring the UK from June this year to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

The Queen: Art and Image is an exhibition which brings together 60 images taken throughout her reign to mark the 60 years the Queen will have been on the throne next year. The exhibition will include images by:
  • photographers: Cecil Beaton, Yousuf Karsh, Patrick Lichfield, Gerhard RichterAnnie Liebowitz and various press photographers
  • artists: Pietro Annigoni, Andy Warhol, Gilbert and George and Lucian Freud
It will tour to each of the capital cities of the four countries of the United Kingdom finishing in London for the period covering the Diamond Jubilee Weekend at the beginning of June 2012.  It opens in Edinburgh in June this year.
A touring exhibition organised by the National Portrait Gallery, London 
The Queen is probably the most visually represented person in British history.  Although eclipsed for a short while by Diana, Princess of Wales, the Queen's image has been represented across the world and throughout the Commonwealth - through formal portraiture, media photography and iconic images such as those on stamps and coins.

A structured restrospective - focused on the six decades - is the approach chosen for the exhibition which focuses on a theme of 'representation'
Documenting the changing nature of representations of the Monarch, the exhibition will show how images serve as a lens through which to view shifting perceptions of royalty.
The images of her reign tell the story of her reign and the story of how life has changed in those 60 years - and the monarchy with it.  The monarchy has down-sized - as has the commonwealth.  It is now less about the imperial aspects of empire and now more about 'ordinary people' in extraordinary roles.

Ironically although she has gone from the formal to the more familiar, virtually all we know of her is through the image.  While the mark of a good portrait is that it tells us about the person as well as what he or she looks like, with the images of the Queen we can't be sure how good they are.

To me it seems as if there is a conundrem.  The more realistic the representation, the more formal it becomes and the more distanced from the real person.  The images which are less "realistic" may well say more about the person.  At the end of the day, the abstractions of her identity and persona define her in different contexts, by different artists and photographers for different constituencies.  

Interestingly I learned that the Queen rather likes some of the images which the people of Britain have not taken to initially.  Now who would have guessed that!

I was amazed at the sheer range of ways in which she has been portrayed and although some of the images will be very familiar, others will be new and some will have never been seen before.

(PS You can see a sketch of the view from the Portrait Restaurant where the meeting was held over on Travels with a Sketchbook in...... - see View from Portrait Restaurant, National Portrait Gallery)


  1. OMG, my housemate is going to *love* this. :) And actually I think it would be fascinating to see too. Shame I hope to be out of London by the time it gets here.

  2. I find this such a fascinating comment: "The more realistic the representation, the more formal it becomes and the more distanced from the real person. The images which are less "realistic" may well say more about the person." It took me several moments to think about this and really grasp it fully --- and you are quite right.This is not quite the same as the posed photo vs candid, but I understood it in that context. Thank you for that insight.

  3. I hope we on the other side of the pond will have the chance to see these images. I particularly enjoy Cecil Beaton's work.


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