Royal commissions

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.

Lawrence reg

An exception to this practice was Goya’s portrait of the Spanish royals.

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

Auntie 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.

Queen Mum 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.

Queen

Of the recent attempts one of the best is by Rupert Alexander.r

I have to say that still the best portrait of HRH I know of is the first one by Annigoni.

A. Queen 1

His second one was rubbish, another example of an artist considering himself and his manner more important than the job.Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 13.42a.24 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.

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  • Reply
    buchwolf
    May 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Your last sentence can be paraphrased like this: As a republican you shouldn’t care, but as an artist you do. I can understand you very well. – A queen or king seems to be somehow in the situation of Andersens monarch in the fairytale ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, having been betrayed, but keeping up the air of not knowing it.

    I did not know Annigoni painted HRH. I agree: the first one is better.

    Wolfgang Krisai

  • Reply
    Nic
    July 29, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    I knew I shouldn’t do it……………but I did I looked at the Dan Llewellyn Hall painting.

    Beyond words!

  • Reply
    Kakwirakeron R. Montour
    August 26, 2013 at 3:28 am

    Not that I am any sort of fawner of the British royal family, but in the interest of what passes for art, and of portraiture in particular, I can only call Hall’s painting what it is – that is an abomination.

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