News Release: Annigoni's great 1950s painting of the Queen goes on show for the first time in 26 years in Diamond Jubilee Exhibition

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Sponsored by KPMG
Spring Season 2012 sponsored by Herbert Smith Freehills LLP

  • Iconic but rarely loaned painting by Annigoni (1954-5) re-united for first time with his other full-length portrait of The Queen from 1969
  • Gerhard Richter’s 1967 portrait loaned for first time  
  • First display of specially commissioned holographic portrait of The Queen, the Gallery’s latest acquisition 
  • First London display of Gallery’s newly commissioned portrait of The Queen and Prince Philip by Thomas Struth    

One of the greatest royal portraits of the twentieth century, Pietro Annigoni’s 1954-5 painting of The Queen is to go on public display for the first time in 26 years at the National Portrait’s Gallery’s The Queen: Art and Image exhibition, it was announced today (16 May 2012.) 

It will be shown on the same wall as the artist’s second celebrated full-length portrait of The Queen commissioned by the Gallery in 1969, the first time these portraits will ever have been seen together for over a quarter of a century and only the second time ever.

Since it was first shown at the Royal Academy in 1955, the painting has only been loaned twice, in 1958 and 1986, by its owners The Fishmongers’ Company, one of the City of London Livery Companies, from Fishmongers Hall, where the painting occupies a prominent position. This refined painting in tempera, oil and ink on paper on canvas, reflects the artist’s fascination with Italian renaissance techniques. When shown at the Royal Academy, it drew crowds said to be ten-deep with viewers fascinated by the portrait’s idealised yet penetrating character.

This spectacular new addition to the Gallery’s touring exhibition – opening in London on 17 May 2012 ahead of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend celebrations – will be displayed alongside some of the most remarkable and resonant images of Elizabeth II across 60 years of her reign, including those by Lucian Freud, Gilbert and George, Cecil Beaton, Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz and Lord Snowdon.

Annigoni’s grand, full-length painting Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Regent, shows the recently crowned, 28-year-old Elizabeth wearing her magnificent Garter robes, and depicted against a pastoral landscape. The painting was prompted by an observation made by The Queen while the artist was making a preparatory sketch in Buckingham Palace: ‘When I was a little child, it always delighted me to look out of the window and see the people and traffic going by.’ The resulting work shows a monarch in a sylvan idyll yet outward looking and connected to her surroundings.

It is seen next to Annigoni’s life-size 1969 commission for the National Portrait Gallery depicting the monarch again in ceremonial robes but now standing against an ambiguous, spare and gloomy, plain background. While both portraits were greeted by enormous public and press interest, the later work adopted a radically different approach from the romantic view of the earlier portrait. Annigoni said: ‘I did not want to paint her as a film star, I saw her as a monarch, alone in the problems of her responsibility.’

Also exclusive to the London showing of the exhibition is a 1967 portrait of The Queen by Gerhard Richter, widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest living painters, and never previously loaned from Museum Wiesbaden in Germany. It can be seen alongside one of the artist’s two 1966 lithographs of The Queen, entitled Elizabeth I.

Visitors to the National Portrait Gallery will also be able to see for the first time, the world’s first ever lenticular image of The Queen, resulting from a holographic process that conveys an illusion of three-dimensional form, Equanimity, by artist Chris Levine and holographer Rob Munday was recently given to the Gallery by the People of Jersey who originally commissioned the portrait. 

On show for the first time in London, will be the 2011 large-scale photographic portrait of The Queen and Prince Philip seated together at Windsor Castle. Photographed in the Castle’s Green Drawing Room by the distinguished German photographer Thomas Struth, the portrait was commissioned by the Gallery to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and to coincide with the opening of the exhibition.

The Queen: Art and Image is the most wide-ranging exhibition of images in different media devoted to a single royal sitter. Among the recent paintings of The Queen on display are Lucian Freud’s 2000-1 portrait from the Royal Collection and Justin Mortimer’s painting where The Queen’s head appears disconnected from her body, set against a huge background of flat vibrant yellow.

Among the exhibited photographers for whom The Queen sat are Annie Leibovitz, Dorothy Wilding and Cecil Beaton - including his celebrated Westminster Abbey Coronation image - and Chris Levine’s highly unusual holographic photograph Lightness of Being from 2004 of The Queen with her eyes closed.

Combining traditional portraits and controversial contemporary images with newspaper photographs, film footage, postage stamps and satirical material, the exhibition highlights important developments and events in The Queen’s reign from her ambiguous relationship with the press, to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the advent of new technology.   

The Queen: Art and Image, organised by the National Portrait Gallery, comes to London following a highly successful tour to Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff.

Paul Moorhouse, Curator of The Queen: Art and Image, and Twentieth-Century Curator at the National Portrait Gallery, says: ‘The Queen is the most represented individual in history – but she remains an enigma. All we really have are images. This exhibition explores the creation of The Queen’s public persona and the way such images reveals a world of changing ideas and values.’


National Portrait Gallery, London
From 17 May until 21 October 2012
Sponsored by KPMG

Spring Season 2012 sponsored by
Herbert Smith Freehills LLP

For further press information, please contact: Neil Evans, Senior Press Manager, National Portrait Gallery: Tel. 020 7312 2452 (not for publication) / Email

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Herbert Smith Freehills LLP is a leading international legal practice with over 1400 lawyers (including over 250 partners) and a network of offices in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. As a firm, we have supported the National Portrait Gallery since 2004, including its 150th anniversary in 2006, and we continue to sponsor the Gallery’s Spring Season as part of our broader community commitment. Alongside our core sponsorship activities, we regularly work with the Gallery to provide arts workshops and careers sessions to the schools we support in the communities near to our London