Created in 1985, Andy Warhol’s Queen Elizabeth II, from: Reigning Queens (Royal Edition) (lots 615 and 616) pay glittering homage to Queen Elizabeth II. Holographic and hallucinatory, the paired portraits of Her Majesty reveal a regal persona in Day-Glo colours. The works were created as part of the artist’s series Reigning Queens, which brought together four ruling monarchs: Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Queen Margarethe II of Denmark, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and Queen Ntombi of Swaziland. Three of the four women featured were monarchs in their own right, and not bestowed with their titles through marriage; following the death of her father King George VI, Elizabeth had become Queen Regnant on 6 February 1952. Warhol’s portrait of the Queen was issued in two editions: a standard edition comprising forty prints, and a Royal Edition of thirty works—including the two present lots—decorated with ‘diamond dust’, the sparkling ground glass that the artist added to some of his most glamorous pictures. Four prints from the Royal Edition were purchased by the Royal Collection in 2012 to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. These works take on even more significance in light of this year’s Platinum Jubilee, the celebration commemorating the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. Having ruled for seven decades, the Queen is the longest-reigning British monarch and history’s longest-serving female head of state.
Although the Queen has sat for a variety of distinguished artists, including Lucian Freud and Annie Leibovitz, among others, Warhol's portrait is unique as she neither posed for nor commissioned it. Instead, Warhol used the Royal photographer Peter Grugeon’s sphinx-like image of the Queen, taken at Windsor Castle on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee celebrations of 1977. In addition to being mass-produced on flags, bunting, mugs, stamps, and posters, Grugeon’s photograph also spawned numerous re-interpretations - perhaps most famously the iconic cover design for the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen, the single which came to epitomise the punk movement. If that record was viewed as an anti-monarchy protest anthem, Warhol’s portrait celebrates England’s ruler in all her radiant glory. The Queen’s global standing, moreover—she remains the most reproduced figure in history—would not have been lost on the artist, who was captivated by fame. In fact, she was his ultimate icon: ‘I want,’ he declared, ‘to be as famous as the Queen of England’ (A. Warhol, quoted in M. Fallon, How to Analyze the Work of Andy Warhol, Edina 2011, p. 15).
Indeed, freed from the constraints that govern an official sanction, Warhol’s treatment of Queen Elizabeth II revels in pictorial autonomy. Rendered in candy-coloured pinks, greens, plums, and turquoises—while the backdrops introduce royal purple and patriotic red—the present two portraits are exuberant, camp, vivacious, fun. As in his paintings of socialites and celebrities, the Warholian vision here is neither mocking nor malevolent, but rather says much about the ways in which public figures are mythologised and consumed. While the Queen is famed for her discretion and impassivity—she rarely gives interviews or expresses her own views in public—Queen Elizabeth II, from: Reigning Queens (Royal Edition) suggests a mischievous, vibrant spirit beneath the royal regalia.