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Lucian Freud (1922-2011)

Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926) c.1999-2001

RCIN 407895

‘You probably think I’m going incredibly slowly, but in fact I’m going at ninety miles an hour, and if I go any faster the car might overturn’.

Lucian Freud compared the task of painting The Queen to undertaking a polar expedition. As an artist who was accustomed to painting his family and friends, he was acutely aware of the need to focus on the ‘inner likeness’ behind such a recognisable face. Freud attempted to make his task more manageable by using a small canvas only 20 cm high, as that would require fewer sittings. He also decided to depict only The Queen’s head and shoulders, rather than paint a full length image. However, once work had commenced, Freud decided to add the Diamond Diadem, perhaps to make the figure more immediately recognisable, and so had to extend the upper edge of his canvas by 3.5 cm. The portrait was painted in the picture conservation studio at St James’s Palace between May 2000 and December 2001. Photographs by Freud’s assistant, the painter and photographer David Dawson, capture the artist at work and provide a valuable insight into the process of painting a portrait.

No portrait of The Queen has divided opinion quite as strongly as this small, expressive oil painting. Richard Cork, art critic for The Times, called it ‘painful, brave, honest, stoical and, above all, clear sighted’. Contrastingly, The Sun’s Royal Photographer, Arthur Edwards, declared: ‘Freud should be locked in the Tower for this’.