Conversation piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor

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© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Conversation piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor

by Sir James Gunn
oil on canvas, 1950
59 1/2 in. x 39 1/2 in. (1511 mm x 1003 mm)
Commissioned, 1950
Primary Collection
NPG 3778

On display in Room 28 on Floor 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sittersback to top

Artistback to top

  • Sir James Gunn (1893-1964), Painter. Artist or producer of 11 portraits, Sitter in 4 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The portrait shows King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II), and her sister Princess Margaret. Throughout the Second World War, the Royal Family remained in London, and when Buckingham Palace received a direct hit the queen said, ‘now we can look the East End in the face’. Determination to share in the fate of the nation increased the monarchy’s popularity. In this post-war portrait, the informality of the presentation, for which the Queen was responsible, was entirely new. The setting is Royal Lodge, where the family’s life was informal. They are shown together at tea-time, a recognisable and very British occasion. Gunn, who had been chosen by the King and Queen for the commission, recalled the difficulty of placing the corgi, moving it about on the canvas in a paper cut-out. Commissioned to hang in a public collection, the work’s domestic character demonstrates changes in perceptions of the monarchy.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • I-Spy National Portrait Gallery, 2010, p. 49
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), p. 214 Read entry

    In Sir James Gunn's portrait, King George VI is joined by his wife, Queen Elizabeth, and daughters Princess Elizabeth and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, for tea. The women's attention is fixed on the king, who is shown enjoying a cigarette while the family's pet corgi sleeps nearby. The relaxed intimacy of this depiction was entirely new in the context of formal royal portraiture and its small size is in marked contrast to traditional large-group portraits of the royal family.

    Throughout the Second World War, the royal family had remained in London, demonstrating a determination to share in the fate of the nation, which won them popular approval. This portrait was an official commission for the National Portrait Gallery, and in representing the very British ritual of afternoon tea, it manages to be both patriotic and informal, and is reflective of a new spirit in the monarchy. In his final Christmas radio broadcast, George VI reflected on the importance of 'friendliness', an approach in contrast with that of more remote monarchs of previous centuries: 'among all the blessings which we may count today, the chief one is that we are a friendly people ... in an age which is hard and cruel.'

  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 53 Read entry

    This commissioned work stresses the informal, family aspect of an everyday occasion. The artist had trouble placing the corgi, using paper cut-outs to move it around the canvas.

  • Gittings, Clare, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I: An Educational Resource Pack, 2003
  • Lloyd, Christopher, The paintings in the Royal Collection : a thematic exploration, 1999, p. 215
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 229
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 230
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 719
  • Shulman, Alexandra, Elizabeth II Princess, Queen, Icon, 2021, p. 49
  • Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 164
  • Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery: History of the Kings and Queens of England, 1998, p. 165

Placesback to top

Events of 1950back to top

Current affairs

Princess Anne is born at Clarence house, the only daughter of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

Art and science

C.S. Lewis publishes The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Lewis was an Oxford Don, specialising in Medieval Literature and its use of allegory. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is often seen as an allegory of the Christian struggle between good and evil.


Following the Soviet and American withdrawal from the occupation of North and South Korea respectively, the Korean War breaks out as each side seeks to unify Korea under its own political system. While the U.S.A., U.K and other UN nations came to the defence of South Korea, North Korea had support from the Soviet Union and China. The war continued until 1953.

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