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The National Portrait Gallery, London

"The Queen : Art & Image"

17 May - 21 October 2012

Pippa Jane Wielgos

To commemorate the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the National Portrait Gallery (London) will show 60 images of the Queen in a landmark exhibition that chronicles 60 years of Elizabeth II’s reign from Sir Winston Churchill to the present day.

The Queen: Art and Image is an important summary of how artists have interpreted Royal subject matter through commissioned and informal images. It includes a diversity of perspectives on the way her image as a person and as the monarch has been appropriated and manipulated by artists and the mass media.

Focussed on the theme of 'representation', the works are accompanied by ephemera and film footage offering a flavour of the times in which the portraits were completed. This context helps understanding of the often turbulent times in which Elizabeth has reigned and how perceptions of Royalty and its role have changed over the decades.

Notable exhibits include Pietro Annigoni’s 1969 commission for the National Portrait Gallery, Lucian Freud’s 2000-01 portrait from the Royal Collection and Justin Mortimer’s unorthodox work where the Queen’s head floats away from her body. 

Photographers represented include Annie Leibovitz, Dorothy Wilding and Cecil Beaton, including his iconic Westminster Abbey Coronation image. Chris Levine’s photograph (2004)) with Her Majesty’s eyes closed is re-worked as a hologram.

Unofficial portraits from major 20th century artists include Gilbert and George, Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, Eve Arnold, Patrick Lichfield and Lord Snowdon, whose work is featured against a multi-media backdrop of major news events as the miners’ strike and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The exhibition emphasises contemporary analysis and chronicles the deconstruction of traditional portrait imagery. What better subject to illustrate the changes than Her Majesty - described by Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, as “the most portrayed person in British history”. 

It features formal painted portraits, official photographs, media pictures, and powerful responses by contemporary artists. Early works in the exhibition including the photography can be interpreted as quite reverential whereas some of the modern portraits can be seen as controversial or even subversive.

“The Queen: Art and Image exhibition will include a significant selection of unofficial portraits by major 20 century artists including those of Gilbert and George and Gerhard Richter as well as less formal portraits by photographers such as Eve Arnold, Patrick Lichfield and Lord Snowdon.” 

Touring the four national capitals of the United Kingdom for over a year, The Queen: Art and Image opens at the National Portrait Gallery in London as part of celebrations for the 2012 Olympic Games, which are thought likely to attract one million foreign visitors.

The National Gallery Complex, Edinburgh 25 June–18 September 2011; The Ulster Museum, Belfast 14 October 2011–15 January 2012; The National Museum Cardiff 4 February – 29 April 2012; The National Portrait Gallery, London 17 May – 21 October 2012.

The exhibition organised by the National Portrait Gallery London in collaboration with National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Ulster Museum, Northern Ireland and the National Museum of Wales.

© Pippa Jane Wielgos

Photograph : Dorothy Wilding, Queen Elizabeth II (1952).

Photographic copyright: The National Portrait Gallery.

Promotional coverage secured by BBC Scotland, "Culture Show" 2012 - for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery exhibition.

Promotional written and coverage secured by Mutual Art 2012 - for the National Museum of Cardiff.


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Central London/Regent's Park, London.

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