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Thursday, 21 January 2016

Portraits of HM Queen Elizabeth II through the decades

We take a look back at some of the most memorable and distinguished depictions of HM Queen Elizabeth II painted during her reign, which includes our artist Nicky Philipps's full-length portrait that was gifted by The Royal Mail to the her Majesty and now hangs in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace. The Queen is one of the most illustrated people of all time and these paintings chart both the fascinating development of portraiture and shifting approaches to monarchy.

Coronation Portrait of Her Majesty The Queen, Sir Cecil Beaton, Gelatin Silver print, 1953 © Royal Collection Trust
Cecil Beaton was chosen to photograph the Queen's coronation in Westminster Abbey on 2nd June 1953, which took place more than a year after the death of King George VI and the Queen's subsequent accession to the throne. Beaton's portrait depicts The Queen holding the Sceptre and Orb and wearing the Imperial State Crown, set against Westminster Abbey. 

Queen Elizabeth II, Sir Herbert James Gunn, Oil on Canvas, 1954 © the artist's estate, photo credit: Parliamentary Art Collection

Standing in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace, the Queen is wearing her coronation dress, Diamond Diadem, Queen Victoria's collet diamond necklace, drop earrings and purple Robe of Estate. This state portrait was commissioned to celebrate the Queen's coronation in 1953 and she is shown standing beside the Imperial State Crown and Sceptre. 

The intricate embroidery on her Majesty's dress, which includes pearls and crystals, allegorical symbols of the Commonwealth as well as wheat sheafs and olive branches, emblems of unanimity and affluence, was carried out by the Royal School of Needlework and took approximately 3,500 hours to complete.
  Queen Elizabeth II, Pietro Annigoni, Oil tempera on board, c. 1950's © the artist's estate, photo credit: Jaguar Heritage
This is the Italian artist Pietro Annigoni's first and iconic depiction of the Queen, which was painted for the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers and hangs in Fishmongers Hall. The artist's use of tempera conveys his interest in the Italian Renaissance. In this portrait, the recently crowned Queen is depicted wearing her striking dark blue Order of the Garter within a pastoral setting.

Queen Elizabeth II, Pietro Annigoni, Tempera grassa on paper on panel, 1969 © The National Portrait Gallery, London

'I did not want to paint her as a film star, I saw her as a monarch, alone in the problems of her responsibility.' - Pietro Annigoni

Fifteen years later, Annigoni was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to paint a second portrait of the Queen, which was thoroughly different in approach to the artist's first, more romantic depiction of the monarch. In this instance, she also wears ceremonial robes but is set against an enigmatic and forlorn landscape. 
HM Queen Elizabeth II, Lucian Freud, Oil on Canvas, 2000- 2001 © Royal Collection Trust 2012 © The Lucian Freud Archive

Unlike other depictions of the Queen, Freud's depiction is a smaller, head and shoulders painting, only 20 centimeters high. The process of painting this expressive and controversial image of the monarch was compared by the artist to a polar expedition. Freud chose to focus particularly on the 'inner likeness' of such a well-known and much-publicised face, although after starting the portrait he added the Queen's Diamond Diadem as a way to make her more immediately recognisable. 
HM Queen Elizabeth II with Willow, Vulcan, Candy and Holly, Nicky Philipps, Oil on Canvas, 2013 © Nicky Philipps   
'There is a dignity to the full-length portrait that Philipps has produced, and it shows her enjoyment in her portrayal of the robes, ''and her desire to make things sparkle''.' - Karen Wright, Art Critic, The Independent

Commissioned by the Royal Mail Group, Nicky Philipps's full-length portrait of HM The Queen was originally intended to be a head and shoulders for the first-class stamp series celebrating the 60th anniversary of her Majesty's coronation. 

Nicky later chose to depict the Queen in her robes, wearing a white dress and crimson sash with the Order of the Garter. Nicky's original portrait was completed in 2013 from original sketches worked on in Buckingham Palace, however in this later version Nicky incorporated the Queen's four corgis into the composition.