The Por­trait Of Majesty David Bai­ley im­mor­talises the Queen

David Bai­ley pho­to­graphs Queen El­iz­a­beth in sup­port of Bri­tain’s Great cam­paign. Es­say by Fay Wel­don.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Contents -

Shake­speare claimed that there was “no art to find the mind’s con­struc­tion in the face.” But he lived in a time when there was no cam­era – and no David Bai­ley be­hind it. Bai­ley’s new por­traits of Queen El­iz­a­beth II show the can­dour, wis­dom, benev­o­lence, and strength of will of the con­sti­tu­tional monarch of Great Bri­tain these past 62 years. The jewels that the Queen brought out for these por­traits are sen­ti­men­tal favourites of hers: the spec­tac­u­lar sap­phire­and-di­a­mond neck­lace with match­ing ear­rings that were a present from her fa­ther, Ge­orge VI, on the oc­ca­sion of her wed­ding to Prince Philip, in 1947. Leav­ing aside their great worth and beauty, one imag­ines that she feels at home in them be­cause of what they mean to her. The dress in the pho­to­graphs was cho­sen by her per­sonal as­sis­tant and de­signer, An­gela Kelly, who knows well what stands up to the Bri­tish pub­lic’s ex­pec­ta­tions and in­spec­tion: It all must be suit­ably lav­ish yet avoid os­ten­ta­tion. And so it is.

Bai­ley’s icon­o­clas­tic en­ergy is trans­muted for once to deliver these most mod­ern, most un­der­stand­ing of royal por­traits. In Her Majesty’s face we see a life of res­o­lu­tion, in­tegrity, for­bear­ance; a dig­nity free of pomp and cir­cum­stance; and the in­ner beauty we have left if we’ve earned it, once the su­per­fi­cial gloss of youth has passed. Bai­ley shows us not an icon but some­one fa­mil­iar, friendly, en­gag­ing, and frank, with her strength in its own un­der­state­ment – so Bri­tish a qual­ity. He flat­ters us by sug­gest­ing that she is the head of state that we Brits de­serve – and we, her sub­jects, are left feel­ing we’d bet­ter live up to that.

Bai­ley is one of our most gifted and charis­matic pho­tog­ra­phers; he’s a great artist who will be seen in the fu­ture to have de­fined mod­ern Bri­tain as Van Dyck de­fined the early Stu­art Age in this coun­try or Jac­ques-Louis David de­fined Rev­o­lu­tion­ary and Napoleonic France. I’ve known him a long time. On the face of it, he couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent from the Queen. A cheeky, work­ing-class kid from the tough streets of East Lon­don, born 12 years af­ter Her Majesty, Bai­ley an­swers any­one back at the drop of a hat, whereas the Queen has spent her pub­lic life tak­ing care not to. But there’s some­thing quite sim­i­lar about them too: the way they’ve both de­voted them­selves to pa­tiently and ac­cu­rately ob­serv­ing other people, the way they’ve both had long ca­reers of ab­so­lute ded­i­ca­tion – hers to the duty of an al­lot­ted pub­lic role, and his to the obli­ga­tions of his art and its ex­cel­lence. They’re both still work­ing, and thriv­ing. They’re amused by life. And they’re both very Bri­tish, and both great.

Taken just prior to the Queen’s 88th birth­day, these por­traits – de­void of guile, as they seem to be with their whatyou-see-is-what-you-get ap­proach – are so un­like any we have seen of El­iz­a­beth be­fore that you’d be a sour­puss not to be se­duced by them.

Bai­ley was the leading light of the new wave of Bri­tish fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phers who started out in the 1960s, tak­ing sexy pic­tures of the world’s most beau­ti­ful women. He mar­ried three of them – they’re all still friends – and typ­i­fied the burst of cre­ative en­ergy that char­ac­terised Swing­ing Lon­don. It was the time of the Bea­tles and Carn­aby Street, when we re­alised that the shoes we put on our feet needn’t be brown or black leather but could be yel­low satin and be the more at­trac­tive for it. Bai­ley saw that if you could pho­to­graph a beau­ti­ful woman in a to­tally dif­fer­ent way, trans­form her from a frozen, re­spectable clotheshorse to a liv­ing, mov­ing, emo­tional crea­ture, much more than fash­ion was go­ing to change. Just a lit­tle push and all would be off into a new fu­ture. He was right – and he’s still do­ing it.

What started in the 1960s in Bri­tain was a new tra­di­tion of in­no­va­tion that’s alive and kick­ing to­day in the cre­ative arts. I once had a stage play on in a Euro­pean cap­i­tal I shan’t name. I re­mem­ber the pro­ducer say­ing to me in ag­grieved tones, “We keep hav­ing to trans­late plays from Bri­tain. It’s too bad. Why do we have no writ­ers of our own?” And I an­swered, with the chutz­pah of youth, “Be­cause that’s what we do over there. Ideas.” I know that these pic­tures are linked to an of­fi­cial Bri­tish govern­ment cam­paign telling you abroad that what we have is “great” – which must seem pretty rad­i­cal com­ing from a na­tion whose favourite word is “sorry.” But I think they achieve the de­sired ef­fect by show­ing why we don’t need to boast. Our cham­pi­ons of the vis­ual and screen arts, of fash­ion, of ar­chi­tec­ture, of de­sign, and of the writ­ten word do the job for us. It’s a bit like this: In the grand 17th­Cen­tury cathe­dral of St. Paul’s, in the City of Lon­don, there is an unas­sum­ing slab of stone dwarfed by the more ar­ro­gant mon­u­ments to the great and proud. It com­mem­o­rates the ar­chi­tect Sir Christo­pher Wren, who re­built St. Paul’s af­ter the Great Fire of 1666, and it says, “If you seek his mon­u­ment, look around you.” When we look at these truly great por­traits – at this col­lab­o­ra­tion by two Lon­don­ers, one a boy from the back­streets and an artist, the other a queen – we see, in an in­stant, the new spirit of a Great Bri­tain that wel­comes the fu­ture. The New Count­ess (St. Martin’s Press), the fi­nal book in Fay Wel­don’s ‘Love and In­her­i­tance’ tril­ogy, is out now.

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