1928 - 1987
Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, from Reigning Queens (F.S.II.334)
screenprint on Lenox Museum Board, 1985
signed and editioned 25/40, with the printer's blindstamp, Rupert Jasen Smith, New York and on verso stamped with the artist's copyright stamp, published by George C.P. Mulder, Amsterdam
39 3/8 x 31 1/2 in, 100 x 80 cm
Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000 CAD
Sold for: $277,250
Equinox Gallery, Vancouver
Acquired from the above by the present Private Collection, Vancouver, 1985
Frayda Feldman and Jörg Schellman, Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962 – 1987, fourth edition, 2003, catalogue #II.334, page 142, listed and reproduced page 142, listed page 219
Tony Shafrazi, editor, Andy Warhol Portraits, 2007, page 17
In 1982, Andy Warhol’s European dealer and publisher George C.P. Mulder wrote to Queen Elizabeth’s private secretary, Sir William Heseltine, to state Warhol’s wish to produce a set of screenprint portraits of the monarch. While the Palace accorded the request, Heseltine’s response was muted: “While the Queen would certainly not wish to put any obstacles in Mr. Warhol’s way, she would not dream of offering any comment on this idea” (figure 1). In 1985, this first reserved response changed to a more positive tone when the Queen saw photographs of Warhol’s screenprints. Heseltine thanked Mulder and commented that “Her Majesty was most pleased and interested to see” these images (figure 2).
As the longest reigning monarch of the British crown, Elizabeth II was the subject of many portraits—official and otherwise—produced by some of the world’s most illustrious painters and photographers. Heseltine’s guarded response showed the care with which Elizabeth II’s image was treated. Warhol, as the avant-garde prince of Pop Art, was perhaps regarded with caution. He was well-known for his portraits of public figures: film stars such as Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, political figures such as John F. Kennedy and Mao, music stars such as Elvis. Warhol was fascinated with celebrity, and the Queen was renowned around the world. Frayda Feldman wrote that Warhol “did more than any other artist to revitalize the practice of portraiture, bringing renewed attention to it in the avant-garde world.”
Warhol produced his Reigning Queens series, a set of large screenprint portraits published in 1985, based on official or media photographs of the only four reigning queens in the world at the time: Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and Queen Ntfombi Tfwala of Swaziland (now Eswatini). This iconic image of Queen Elizabeth II is based on a photograph taken by Peter Grugeon at Windsor Castle in 1975, which was released in 1977 on the occasion of her Silver Jubilee. She is beautiful, resplendent in her regalia of the diamond and pearl Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara and a diamond and pearl necklace, wearing a blue sash pinned with a medallion with a miniature portrait of her father, George VI. Her expression is somewhat Mona Lisa–like—she has an enigmatic smile and appears to look beyond the photographer. She is warm but dignified, conscious of the fact that she is sitting for a formal photograph. Tony Shafrazi noted: “The image [of Queen Elizabeth] was interesting and had that iconic look about it in and of itself. No matter who the individual was, the colour, the graphic impact, and the pose of the subject were the most important factors in any given portrait.”
With his unerring eye for a great image that truly represented the sitter, Warhol understood that the Grugeon photograph caught the Queen in a classic pose: regal, confident, and radiating warmth and charisma. Warhol was keenly aware of how celebrities were mythologized and consumed by the public. In a sea of images of the Queen, this one truly stands out. Although the Queen was renowned for her discretion and dignity, rarely exposing her views in public, here we sense the woman behind the crown—inaccessible and yet someone we identify with and feel affection for.
Warhol produced two editions of these portraits—one of 30, noted as the Royal Edition, with crushed glass, called “diamond dust,” as part of the image, and an edition of 40 without diamond dust. This work is from the edition of 40. In each edition, Warhol produced four versions of this portrait in different background colours, with coloured lines drawn on the screenprint of the photograph and overlaid with contrasting patches of geometric colour blocks. Our work is from the edition of 40. Colour in this series has a vivid, chromatic intensity, and this print was produced with a rich red background and vibrant pink, green, blue and orange colour blocks. This red background gives a more exuberant effect than the other coloured backgrounds in the series. In this extraordinary screenprint, the monumental importance the Queen had as a female monarch and a worldwide symbol is reflected through the vision of Warhol, himself a towering figure in contemporary art.
Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000 CAD
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