There has recently been a portrait of the Queen commissioned by the Welsh Rugby Union painted by a man called Dan Llewellyn Hall. It’s so awful and shaming for my country and my profession that I don’t want to say any more about it. But it does bring up the question of why such portraits are made and what the expectations are.
Royal portraits, as with any Head of State, obviously have a political role. Traditionally that is to enhance the qualities and abilities of the sitter, to show them as powerful, confident, intelligent and well equipped for the role they fulfil. Very few made before the middle of the last century did anything but flatter the subject, often outrageously, as with Sir Thomas Lawrence’s of the fat and unprepossessing Prince Regent.
An exception to this practice was Goya’s portrait of the Spanish royals.
A more ordinary looking bunch it would be difficult to find, emphasised by the contrast with the gaudy costumes and decorations. He even included mad Auntie Maria Josefa in the back, hardly an advert for the stability and probity of the family
One of my favourite painters, Philip De Laszlo, did many good portraits, as of the Queen’s mum when she was Duchess of York. He had a lovely flowing style and a good eye for the best characteristics of a person.
An artist who, it seems, set out to deliberately make the Queen look foolish was Lucien Freud. The lumpen, unshaven face with the gormless expression contrasted with the brilliant crown plonked incongruously on top of her head cannot be put down to the vagaries of his manner – he was too good a draughtsman for that.
I have to say that still the best portrait of HRH I know of is the first one by Annigoni.
His second one was rubbish, another example of an artist considering himself and his manner more important than the job. Ever since the Seventies there has been a practise of doling out Royal commissions, and indeed establishment portraits on the basis of politically correct social or ethnic spread, or right-on fashionable artists whose abilities and insights leave much to be desired. This is a kind of Philistinism. As a convinced and committed republican, I shouldn’t care, but I do.