Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II, by Andy Warhol, 1985 - NPG 5882(4) - © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London

© 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London

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Queen Elizabeth II

by Andy Warhol
silkscreen print, 1985
39 3/8 in. x 31 1/2 in. (1000 mm x 800 mm)
Purchased, 1986
Primary Collection
NPG 5882(4)

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Artist. Artist or producer of 8 portraits, Sitter in 2 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The American artist and film-maker Andy Warhol once said 'I want to be as famous as the Queen of England'. An initiator and exponent of Pop Art in the 1950s and 60s, he used photography, often not his own, to create secondary images which had an innovatory and rejuvenating impact on the nature of portraiture. This iconic set of portraits is part of a series entitled Reigning Queens, which included Queen Margarethe of Denmark, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Queen Ntombi of Swaziland, and is derived from an official 1977 Jubilee photograph by Peter Grugeon. The repetition of the four prints is reminiscent of postage stamps, reflecting the sheer quantity of images that exist of the Queen, but each print has a separate identity. Warhol has treated the Queen not as a monarch, but as one of the many celebrities he depicted, and he once said 'I want to be as famous as the Queen of England'. His approach reinvigorated the traditional presentation of royalty.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Gittings, Clare, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I: An Educational Resource Pack, 2003
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 98 Read entry

    Warhol made a series of screen prints of Reigning Queens in which the repetitive process of printing is itself a comment on the ubiquity and in many cases the banality, of images of even the most stellar celebrities. The portraits also emphasise the commodification of individual likenesses in a media obsessed world, and ask us to think about what this means for royalty.

  • Moorhouse, Paul and Cannadine, David (appreciation), The Queen: Art and Image, 2011 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 17 May to 21 October 2012), p. 122 Read entry

    Andy Warhol was fascinated by fame. From the early 1960s his images of celebrities dissected the relationship between the individual and his or her public persona. It is significant that in 1985 he turned to the Queen as a subject ripe for this treatment. Based on a photograph by Peter Grugeon, the resulting screen-printed images transformed the Queen's features through abstraction and exaggertated colour. The implication is that the public face is pure artifice.

  • Rab MacGibbon, National Portrait Gallery: The Collection, p. 105
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 217
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 217 Read entry

    Portraits in the Gallery's collection are supposed to be from the life, but the Queen certainly did not sit to Andy Warhol. Instead he based his set of four silkscreen prints on an earlier Royal Jubilee photograph taken in 1977 by Peter Grugeon. The prints were part of a group of 'Reigning Queens' and make ironic play with the classic iconography of the monarchy in exactly the same way that Warhol had previously subverted advertising imagery by the replication of images of Campbell's soup tins. In an interview with Warhol soon after the series, he was asked if he had included himself in the set. He replied, 'Er, er, oh well, everybody knows that I'm a queen ... but the prints are of royal ones and stuff.'

  • Shulman, Alexandra, Elizabeth II Princess, Queen, Icon, 2021, p. 109

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1985back to top

Current affairs

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.


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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