The Queen: Art and Image

In this year of the Jubilee, luckily coinciding with the patriotic fervour inspired by the Olympics, the Queen has become like extended family to many. Rich family, who don’t visit more than once every couple of years and whom you have to get the best china out for, but with whom you feel a faint sense of familiarity nevertheless. She seems more accessible than usual, her image part of the weekly fabric of news stories which form part of the vague backdrop to our lives.

This timely exhibition perhaps best charts how the view of the Queen has flipped between a detached figure worthy of deference, to a woman of the people, still highly respected, to a figure of derision and beyond. Some of the most recent representations include the fantastically acidic canary yellow image of a fragmented Queen Elizabeth by Justin Mortimer, and the controversial, almost butch, 2001 portrait by Lucian Freud. Contrast these with the formal portraits taken just after her accession to the throne in the 50’s and the reverential yet lovely family shots taken in the 60’s and it is obvious that a shift has occurred. This shift isn’t always easy to describe, though, as the portrayals of our monarch reflect back at us our ambiguous and often uneasy relationship with this female figurehead.

A small show (you’d struggle to spend little more than an hour in here) which packs a punch and follows an interesting narrative. With the popularity of the Royals at an all time high, the highest since Diana, and Kate and Wills our newest VIPs, the Queen has come full circle. No longer the glamorous stuff of fairytales she still commands honour and slots into our celebrity obsessed culture with a knowing air of someone who has seen it all. One worth seeing.

Justin Mortimer, The Queen (1998), oil on canvas

Curated by Paul Moorhouse. On display until 21st October 2012.

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