WITHOUT A CROWN: ‘The Queen: Art and Image’ Opens At National Portrait Gallery
It seems that, as a nation, we’ve ticked the ‘Jubilee box’ and made a concerted move towards ‘Olympics mode’. So, I’ll admit I felt a tad behind the times when I finally made it to see ‘The Queen: Art and Image’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery last week.
This touring exhibition contains some of the most recognisable and resonant images of the Monarch herself across from the last 60 years. Reading like a ‘who’s who’ of the art world, attendees get to stare at the entire gamut of royal portraiture from the best of the biz; from painted portraits and official photographs, to the ‘everything in between’ of evocative contemporary pieces and video footage.
Having taken my (very little and very cultured) brother and sisters to see the exhibition, I was curious to hear their thoughts. The youngest, a three year old purveyor of fact and sense, commented earnestly on a portrait of the young sovereign by Dorothy Wilding, ‘That’s not the Queen. She’s not wearing a crown’. As they say…out of the mouths of babes…
Precisely as the little’un noted, what is so remarkable about the exhibition is that it shows through the evolution of artistic depiction a fundamental shift in our engagement with the monarchy. Spanning key changes in social scene and historical context the artists’ varied work shows an increased ability to see behind the ‘crown’ to the ‘person’. And so, cue transition from stiff portraits to informal family pictures to ambiguous representation.
Among the highlights of the works were Lucian Freud’s 2000-1 portrait from the Royal Collection (with his characteristic focus on the landscape of the human face) and Thomas Struth’s compelling recent large-scale photograph depicting The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh. Among other exhibited photographers for whom The Queen sat are Annie Leibovitz, Dorothy Wilding, and Chris Levine, whose highly unusual photograph from 2004 of The Queen with her eyes closed is included.
Collectively, the exhibition celebrates and explores the startling range of artistic creativity and media-derived imagery that The Queen has inspired. It also probes the relation of this imagery to a world of changing public perception and affection during a reign that has attracted the stares of millions.
Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘The Queen is the most portrayed person in British history, reflecting her long reign and also the respect and affection that is felt towards her. The National Portrait Gallery is very pleased to have shared this exhibition with our other national partners in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff and delighted that it now comes to London.’
‘The Queen: Art & Image’ will be at the National Portrait Gallery, London from 17 May until 21 October 2012