“I want to be as famous as the Queen of England.”
– Andy Warhol
LONDON - In 1985, still enthralled by celebrities and public figures, Warhol, the canonical father of Pop art, turned his attention towards capturing monarchies. Queen Elizabeth II (lot 173) forms part of the celebrated series entitled ‘Reigning Queens’ which also depicts Queen Margrethe II of Denmark (lot 175), Queen Ntombi of Swaziland and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. At the time these works were created these queens ruled in their own right, rather than through marriage. It would therefore seem that the artist intended these works to be read as symbols of female autonomy and authority. In this sense these works, although formalistically similar marked a clear move away from the artist’s earlier depictions of female icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy, which presented a more fragile display of femininity.
Andy Warhol’s Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (Royal Edition) (F. & S. Ii.334a - 337a). Lot 173 of the Prints & Multiples sale. Estimate £100,000–150,000.
Continuing his practice of manipulating existing photographs, for his portrait of Queen Elizabeth, Warhol drew upon an official photograph taken by Philip Grugeon presenting the Queen within Windsor Castle at the time of her Silver Jubilee in 1977. Stripping the image down so that the monarch’s features become somewhat flattened, Warhol completely transformed Grugeon’s photo into a strong and undeniably striking emblem of power. With her bright eyes and mask-like face, Warhol’s depiction of the Queen manages to evoke the qualities of a byzantine icon. This primitive quality contrasts with the electric colours of the work, which provide the piece with a more modern feel. These dazzling colours may also seem to cheekily reference the club culture prevalent at the time and with that, the flamboyant body of drag queens, who were very much a part of this scene and who Warhol had made his subjects a decade earlier in the brilliant series ‘Ladies and Gentleman’ (1975) – also represented in this sale.
Central to this set of works (lot 173) is the artist’s interest in repetition and mass production. In duplicating the image of the queen four times, Warhol reminded the viewer that the queen is the most widely depicted woman in the world. Simultaneously the reproduction of the Queen’s face works in conjunction with the formatting and presentation to evoke the nature of stamps – albeit on a monumental scale.
Andy Warhol's Queen Margrethe Ii of Denmark (See F. & S. Iib.342-345). Lot 175 of the Prints & Multiples sale. Estimate £3,000–5,000.
To enhance and exaggerate the feeling of glamour to the series, Warhol scattered diamond dust, fine particles of cut or crushed glass across the sheets, so that the pieces seem to sparkle like diamonds in the light. What could be more fitting for a depiction of her Majesty? Certainly the Royal Collection, which purchased a set of this series to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, would appear to think so.
This set, printed in a vibrant combination of colours and estimated at £100,000–150,000, is the 21st in the special edition of 30. It will be offered at Sotheby’s Prints & Multiples sale in London on the 16th September.
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