Thursday, May 10, 2012

Painting the Queen

Portraits of the Queen - and studies for those portraits
the mini-wall in the Annual Exhibition
of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters
This year the Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee

Next week, a major exhibition The Queen - Art & Image opens at the National Portrait Gallery to mark the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen

This week and next, the 121st Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters - at the Mall Galleries until 18th May - contains:
Tomorrow (Friday 11th May) there is a Painting the Queen a talk at the Mall Galleries at 3pm with Michael Noakes - one of the members of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RSPP)

Below you can find 
  • a narrative of the process which applies to all those commissioned to paint the Queen
  • some of the images of the paintings and studies you can see in the RSPP exhibition.  They provide an insight into the very difficult process of painting the Queen.
  • some other perspectives on painting the Queen
How an artist paints the Queen
The Queen has sat for 129 portraits during the sixty years of her reign

Artists are generally commissioned by an Institution to paint a portrait of the Queen.  Occasionally the Queen personally commissions a portrait - via a royal representative. 

Those artists who paint the Queen's portrait may be asked to paint another one by another Institution since the first gives an insight into what sort of portrait it might get - and the artists knows full well what the process will be like.

It's apparent that not all those commissioning a portrait reveal who the sitter is when interviewing artists.  For some the sitter has come as a big surprise - as happened to Isobel Peachey when she won the Cunard commission for a portrait for the new Queen Elizabeth liner!

I'm guessing that there is a 'quantum' as to how many portraits the Queen sits for each year and how many sittings she will grant - and then there's the tricky matter of actually fitting them into the Royal Diary!  I imagine there must be some sort of queue for commissioned portraits of the Queen - and I wonder who sorts out who gets in the queue.

Artists undertaking a commissioned portrait of the Queen are granted a limited number of time-limited sittings.  Artists typically get three sittings spread over four months - ideally with each sitting being about two months apart.  The sittings are also typically conducted at one of the Royal Palaces - normally Buckingham Palace.

Artists frequently comment on feeling rather intimidated in that the process is not going to be quite like any other, the model is very definitely different(!) and there is no or little opportunity to see the model in the flesh beforehand.   However there is any amount of film and video footage and formal photographs by others which can be accessed

Inevitably, photographs have to be taken to work with sittings used to decide on a pose and to focus on getting important aspects of coloration and features right.

Judging from work in the exhibition, it seems to me that a number of artists may very often use the sittings to develop studies with the real portrait being executed away from the sitting using the evidence gathered in the sitting.

Images of the Queen by RSPP members

Her Majesty The Queen is the Patron of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.  Members of the RSPP have also regularly portrayed the Queen during her reign - and before she came to the throne.

Naturally, the RSPP would want to mark her Diamond Jubilee in this year's exhibition - and they do so very well with a mini-exhibition of studies for the portraits and completed portraits.  I found it fascinating - but then I love seeing all the work and the process which go into a portrait of the Queen.

This mini-exhibition is certainly a unique opportunity to see how others approach painting the Queen.  

The RSPP have also taken the opportunity to make the exhibition more accessible and to  commemorate the Jubilee in a more lasting way via a website which commemorates members' portraits of the Queen - see The Royal Society of Portrait Painters celebrate their patron The Queen.

The artists contributing to the exhibition are listed below.  Click the links in the titles of the paintings to find out more about them.  You can also see larger images of the works in the exhibition
James Lloyd RP

James Lloyd is the only member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters to have won two very distinguished prizes for portrait painters - the BP Portrait Award (1997) and the RSPP's own Ondaatje Award (2008).  He also used to be my tutor for the "Drawing the Head" class he takes at the Prince's Drawing School!  James has provided the photos he used in the studio while developing the portrait - he's not an artist who uses digital images and a computer screen!  Plus a well developed study of the Queen's head which is after all the most important part of the portrait.

A study made of the Queen's head for the portrait
above a photograph of the portrait of the Queen by James Lloyd
© James Lloyd
Paint spattered photos of the Queen used during the development of
James Lloyd's portrait of the Queen
John Wonnacott Hon. RP CBE

John Wonnacott's portrait The Royal Family A Centenary Portrait 1999-2000 of the Queen, Queen Mother, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, his two sons and a lot of corgis is one of the best royal portraits I've ever seen.  It has a real family feel to it.  You can also see it if you click through his portraits on the RP website and in the website about the portraits
This project occupied me full time for about a year, working almost every day in the Palace making room studies in the same space that Lavery had used for his 1913 painting of George V and his family. Each of my royal sitters posed separately, for around 7 hours each. I drew the Queen Mother in Clarence house, the Queen and the Duke in the Yellow Drawing room, used regularly as an artist’s studio. The Prince of Wales posed at Highgrove and the young Princes in their housemaster’s study at Eton.
These are studies for his portrait

Studies by John Wonnacott for Centenary Portrait© John Wonnacott
Antony Williams
This painting is unusual in that rather than being commissioned by family or an institution, Antony carried out the commission as part of the Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture, which he won in 1995.
When Antony Williams portrait was made public there was a lot of comment about her hands.  To me they just like the hands of a woman aged 70.  I don't think monarchs get special exemption from ageing.

HM The Queen by Antony Williams RP
Winner of the Ondaatje prize for Portraiture
Royal Society of Portrait Painters 1995
egg tempera
122 x 96cm (48 x 38 inches)
Personally I think Antony Williams's portrait of the Queen is one of most honest and finest ever done.  

cropped head from HM The Queen by Antony Williams RP 
More perspectives on painting the Queen

1 comment:

Unknown said...

There is near to nothing on this topic, and the processes on painting a queen (for which I am doing a project on for school) on the internet. And this has proved a very valuble source of information - Thanks!

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