1950s to the present

Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton 2 June 1953 NPG x35390

Queen Elizabeth II
by Cecil Beaton
2 June 1953
NPG x35390

 

1950s

From the moment of her accession in February 1952 Queen Elizabeth II has been subjected to relentless visual scrutiny.  During her first decade on the throne press and studio photographers, such as Dorothy Wilding, emphasised her youth, elegance and glamour. Other images, notably the coronation photographs by Cecil Beaton, concentrated on her dignity and regal splendour.

The Queen's first television broadcast on Christmas Day 1957 gave a mass audience an unprecedented sight of their monarch speaking in their own homes.


Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton 2 June 1953 NPG x35390

Queen Elizabeth II
by Pietro Annigoni
1969
NPG 4706

 

1960s

During the 1960s the Queen's public image became increasingly informal and emphasised her position as a mother and as the embodiment of family life. As the decade unfolded there were profound social changes in Britain and the Queen’s elevated position began to look out of step with more egalitarian times.

Pietro Annigoni explained about this portrait: ‘I did not want to paint her as a film star; I saw her as a monarch, alone in the problems of her responsibility’.


Queen Elizabeth II by Thomas Patrick John Anson, 5th Earl of Lichfield 1971 NPG x29562

Queen Elizabeth II
by Thomas Patrick John Anson, 5th Earl of Lichfield
1971
NPG x29562

 

1970s

The image of the Queen that had emerged in the 1960s continued during the next decade. A more outwardly relaxed individual is seen in the photographs taken by Patrick Lichfield, and with more press photographs of royal engagements, the result was to reinvent the public's perception of Queen Elizabeth II. However, the price of this 'ordinary' appeal was a growing familiarity that signalled the beginning of a new irreverence. This is seen in Jamie Reid's poster design for the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen in 1977, her silver Jubilee year.


India Amanda Caroline Hicks; Sarah-Jane Gaselee; Diana, Princess of Wales; Clementine Hambro; Queen Elizabeth II by Thomas Patrick John Anson, 5th Earl of Lichfield 29 July 1981 NPG x29570

India Amanda Caroline Hicks; Sarah-Jane Gaselee; Diana, Princess of Wales; Clementine Hambro; Queen Elizabeth II
by Thomas Patrick John Anson, 5th Earl of Lichfield
29 July 1981
NPG x29570

 

1980s

After the first public appearances of Lady Diana Spencer at the beginning of the 1980s, the way Queen Elizabeth II was represented and regarded began to transform. Although the she remained removed from the resulting upsurge of media interest in the younger members of the royal family, she was not unaffected by their growing celebrity status.

Throughout the decade an increasingly intrusive press probed the public image of royalty, and a striking newspaper photograph taken at the 1982 State Opening of Parliament seems to foreshadow the crisis imposed by these developments.


The Queen by Justin Mortimer, 1998 © Justin Mortimer

The Queen
by Justin Mortimer, 1998
© Justin Mortimer

 

1990s

The increasingly diverse nature of images of the Queen produced in the 1990s suggests the struggle for identity that confronted the royal family. The impression of disintegration culminated in the tragic death of Princess Diana in a car-crash in 1997 which provoked fresh speculation about the state and future of the monarchy.

The paintings and photographs produced in the late 1990s convey a startling spectrum of implications, ranging from Justin Mortimer's fragmented portrait to a press photograph of the Queen taking tea with a Scottish family.


Lightness of Being by Chris Levine, 2007 © Chris Levine

Lightness of Being
by Chris Levine, 2007
Courtesy of Mr Kevin P.Burke and the Burke Children. Private Collection.

 

2000 to the present

At the beginning of the twenty-first century a changed world gave rise to the question: what does the Queen now represent? Lucian Freud's controversial portrait presents a characteristically unflinching view of his sitter. Chris Levine's view is more ambiguous, his camera capturing the Queen as she rests between exposures.

Though the many responses differ, a single impression emerges: that of an enduring presence while those around her continue to confront an uncertain future.