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Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II, by Michael Leonard, 1985-1986 - NPG 5861 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Queen Elizabeth II

by Michael Leonard
acrylic on cotton duck, 1985-1986
30 in. x 24 1/4 in. (762 mm x 616 mm)
Given by Reader's Digest Association, 1986
Primary Collection
NPG 5861

On display in Room 32 at the National Portrait Gallery

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This portrait with the Queen’s corgi Spark is set in the Yellow Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace. It was commissioned by the Reader’s Digest and presented to the Gallery in celebration of the Queen’s 60th birthday. Michael Leonard commented that his aim was 'a straightforward rather informal picture that would tend to play down the remoteness of Her Majesty's special position'.

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  • Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 93
  • Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 137 Read entry

    This vivid and cheerful portrait of the Queen was commissioned by Reader’s Digest magazine from a leading British photorealist painter to celebrate Her Majesty’s sixtieth birthday. The artist, Michael Leonard, said that he ‘wanted to give the viewer a feeling of having a conversation with the Queen’. Cheered no doubt my having a favourite corgi to share her ordeal and only having to pose for photographs (from which the portrait was painted), this is indeed one of the most extrovert and approachable of all the many paintings that have been made of the Queen. The setting is the Yellow Drawing-room at Buckingham Palace (the same as for Bryan Organ’s 1981 portrait of Princess Diana), and the corgi’s ‘red-gold coat became the colour key for a picture largely made up of variations on gold – a scheme I hoped would help to convey a feeling of royalty combined with human warmth’. The corgi was the 8-year-old Spark, whom the Queen herself chose to bring along to the sittings, ‘possibly because of her obedience and good nature ... Spark was a great asset at the sittings. She did all that was asked of her and provided the occasion for Her Majesty to adopt a pose that was unforced and natural, lending the composition a degree of liveliness and movement.’

    Spark was not the first royal corgi to appear in a portrait of the Queen at the National Portrait Gallery. One can be seen sleeping on the floor in Sir James Gunn’s 1950 Conversation Piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor, a painting of King George VI and his family. It was in 1933, when he was Duke of York, that the King first bought a Pembroke Welsh corgi, called Dookie, as a pet for his two young daughters. Originally used for droving cattle, Pembrokeshire corgis are an ancient Welsh breed and are slightly smaller and – partly due to their royal patronage – better known than Cardigan Welsh corgis. Dookie was joined by Jane in 1938 and soon after by their puppies, Crackers and Carol. The Queen grew up with these corgis, and she has remained attached to them ever since. Spark belonged to the tenth generation of corgis descended from Susan, a bitch from a Cambridgeshire kennels who was given to the Queen for her eighteenth birthday in 1944.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 202
  • Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 165
  • Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery: History of the Kings and Queens of England, 1998, p. 159

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55 people die in the Manchester air disaster when a British Airtours Boeing 737 bursts into flames after an aborted takeoff at Manchester International Airport.

Art and science

Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organise Live Aid, a rock concert in London and Philadelphia, to raise funds for famine relief. The biggest names in popular music, including Paul McCartney, Queen, Status Quo, The Police, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, U2, The Who, and Led Zeppelin, performed to a TV audience of 1.5 billion.
The British Antarctic Survey discovers a hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica.

International

Reformer Mikhail Gorbachev comes to power as first secretary of the Soviet Communist party. He calls for 'glasnost' (openness) in Soviet life, and pursues a policy of 'perestroika' (reconstruction).
French intelligence operatives sabotage Rainbow Warrior, the Greenpeace vessel. The ship was leading a protest against French nuclear testing in New Zealand when it was bombed and sunk, killing one of the twelve on board.

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