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The many faces of the Queen

8 September 2022

Queen Elizabeth II was the longest reigning monarch of the United Kingdom. It is no surprise, therefore, that she was one of its most portrayed. While her citizens are most familiar with the portrait of her by Robert Austin that appears on the pound notes, it is the other depictions that attracted more attention. From Cecil Beaton to Lucian Freud, some of the greatest names of the late 20th century have captured the Queen’s likeness and in so doing revealed different aspects of both the monarch and the monarchy.

Queen Elizabeth II (1953), Cecil Beaton

Queen Elizabeth II (1953), Cecil Beaton. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

On the morning of 2 June 1953, three million people lined the streets between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey to witness the process of the Gold State Coach. Cecil Beaton attended the Queen coronation’s ceremony, along with 8,000 other guests and then returned to the Palace to make preparations for the official portrait sitting. In this portrait, the Queen wears the imperial state crown – a replica of that made for Queen Victoria’s Coronation – and the coronation ring, a symbol that the sovereign is ‘wedded’ to the state.

Stained-glass window at Canterbury Cathedral (1954)

Courtesy Canterbury Cathedral

Created in 1954, this stained glass window at Canterbury Cathedral depicts Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip with their children.

Robert Austin’s portrait of the Queen (1960)

The portrait of Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II on the current five pound note (left) is positioned next to an original one pound note issued on March 17, 1960, which was the first banknote to carry a portrait of the Queen. Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The portrait of the Queen that everyone carries around in their pockets was originally designed by Robert Austin in 1960.

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (1985), Andy Warhol

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (1985), Andy Warhol. Photo: © Tate (Seraphina Neville)

This work is from Warhol’s Reigning Queens 1985 portfolio, which comprised sixteen prints made up of four images of each of the four female monarchs who were ruling in the world at the time of publication, including Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland.

Queen Elizabeth II (1985–86), Michael Leonard

Queen Elizabeth II (1985–1986), Michael Leonard. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Leonard was commissioned to create this portrait of the Queen and her corgi Spark by the Reader’s Digest on the occasion of Her Majesty’s 60th birthday.

The Queen (1997), Justin Mortimer

Justin Mortimer the Queen

The Queen (1997), Justin Mortimer. Courtesy the artist

Mortimer’s painting caused a stir when it was first unveiled, with claims that the artist appeared to have cut off Her Majesty’s head. However, the Queen herself seems to have been unfazed as shortly afterwards she commissioned a portrait of her own Lord Chamberlain by him.

HM Queen Elizabeth II (c. 1999–2001), Lucian Freud

Lucian Freud queen portait

HM Queen Elizabeth II (c.1999-2001), Lucian Freud. Royal Collection Trust; © The Lucian Freud Archive

Over the course of 18 months, the Queen sat for famed 20th century painter in the Friary Court picture-conservation studio in St James’s Palace in London. The resulting painting is only 8 inches in height.

The Royal Family: A Centenary Portrait (2000), John Wonnacott

John Wonnacott

The Royal Family: A Centenary Portrait (2000), John Wonnacott. National Portrait Gallery, London; © John Wonnacott

Wonnacott’s 12-foot-high portrait, commissioned in celebration of the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday, depicts four generations of the house of Windsor: William, the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Harry and Charles grouped around the Queen Mother, who is seated on the yellow chair.

Equestrian sculpture of HM The Queen (2003) Philip Jackson

queen statue windsor great park

Equestrian sculpture of HM The Queen (2003) Philip Jackson. Photo: Ian Bottle/Alamy Stock Photo

This bronze, life-size statue was commissioned by The Crown Estate in celebration Her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee, and unveiled by HM The Queen in 2003.