Portraits of a monarch

It’s hard to get away from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in London right now, but you don’t have to be a fan of royalty to find the National Portrait Gallery exhibition of The Queen: Art and Image (until 21 October) interesting. There are photographs of her posed throughout her reign, some of the most familiar being by Cecil Beaton, but those that draw your eye are those like Lord Litchfield’s unusual one of her laughing aloud. The portraits range from deferential formal images in the Fifties through to the subversive 1977 Sex Pistols poster and Lucien Freud’s miserable 2001 offering that is the size of a large postage stamp. They also trace the arc of the public view of royalty as it teetered on oblivion. That tension between tradition and modernism is cleverly played on in a 2007 image called Elizabeth vs Diana, where Korean artist Kim Dong-Yoo uses tiny images of Diana to build a picture of the queen. It is not easy bringing something new to such a truly iconic image, and yet Andy Warhol’s 1985 silkscreen prints of a very glamorous queen do just that, while German artist Gerhard Richter’s familiar blurring technique and the exaggerated features of his second portrait give a slightly surreal look. Finally, Chris Levine’s Lightness of Being (2007) shows the Queen with her eyes closed, poised perhaps between person and position.

 

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