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a word on art

Remembering HM Queen Elizabeth II, 1926-2022

Our thoughts and prayers are with King Charles III and the Royal Family. With a sense of profound gratitude, we join the nation as we mourn the loss of the Queen.


It is worth taking a pause to fully appreciate the span of Elizabeth II's reign in art historical terms. At her accession in 1952, Sir Alfred Munnings was president of the Royal Academy, Matisse was at work producing his series of cut-outs, and Jackson Pollock was at the height of his fame.

The New Elizabethan Age, as her reign has been termed, has seen a flowering of British Art. From modern titans such as Hepworth, Bacon and Freud to Hockney and the YBAs, the last 70 years have been a period of tremendous artistic energy in these Isles.

Elizabeth herself became a subject for artists in a way that few other heads of state have been. One can think of no other figure who has been portrayed by artists as diverse as Phillip de Lászlo, Gerhard Richter, and Andy Warhol in the span of their lifetime. The Queen thus did more than preside over the last 70 years of art, she became one of its most surprising icons.

Her willingness to act as a sponsor for British art is perhaps best evidenced by her 18th sitting for Lucian Freud in 2001. For a monarch to choose to have their visage captured by an artist of searing and often unflattering vision is a testament to an engagement with the contemporary arts greater than any ruler before her. As in her unfaltering public service, the Queen participated in the arts to an extent above-and-beyond what was expected of her, leaving an indelible legacy on British culture.

Elizabeth II sitting for Lucian Freud in 2001. Photo: © David Dawson. All rights reserved 2022 / Bridgeman Images. Artwork: © The Lucian Freud Archive. All Rights Reserved 2022 / Bridgeman Images

As we take in the length and breadth of British art during the New Elizabethan Age, we can pause to look down at a stamp, a coin, or a banknote, and continue to see the Queen's portrait. Personally beloved by the sovereign, classical in its side profile, and monumental despite its small size, these small images of the Queen should serve as constant reminders of her presence and service.


It is perhaps fitting that, at the end of a reign defined by mass communication and global integration, Elizabeth II's iconic image is perhaps the most widespread on Earth; a fitting legacy for a truly great monarch.



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