The Daily Telegraph
‘I got a real sense of her humanity’
RALPH HEIMANS, 2012 DIAMOND JUBILEE PORTRAIT, 2012
My painting was commissioned for the 2012 Diamond Jubilee by the National Portrait Gallery of Australia. It was the only portrait commissioned for the Diamond Jubilee, which was a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful brief, but there is obviously the enormous pressure; it’s the most important job of your career.
There was no creative restriction at all – the portrait was proposed virtually and involved discussions with the Palace about what Queen Elizabeth would be wearing, but other than that I had total control.
The late Queen sat for me in the Drawing Room as she always does, and the main
It was 1995 and I was 28, living in a flat above an Indian restaurant. One day, I got a phone call from the Royal Over-seas League director general, who told me that Queen Elizabeth wanted me to paint her portrait.
I remember going to Buckingham Palace before the sitting to meet the late Queen’s dresser – where I was able to pick out the frock – in my VW Beetle, which was full of paint brushes. The guardsmen – rightly – laughed at me before I could prove I was meant to be there.
Queen Elizabeth entered the drawing room carrying a blanket, which she put on the side of a chair before asking whether I minded – of course I said it was fine. I included it in the final challenge was to transpose her from there into the Abbey, where the portrait is set. When I was painting her I got a real sense of her humanity, especially when I stood up close, and I found her to be very bright. She was really engaged in the process and there was a humility to her, which I was quite touched by, and I hope that came through in the painting.
I wanted people to be able to imagine how it feels to be standing in front of Queen Elizabeth. Ten years on, I think the painting still feels relevant, because it was designed that way. It was painted for future years as well; as an artist, who has one shot at a portrait, your aim is to create a timeless image.
‘I told her I was inspired by Gainsborough. She said: “Oh I think we’ve got a few of those”’ CHRISTIAN FURR, THE ROYAL OVER-SEAS LEAGUE PORTRAIT, 1995
portrait because I felt it showed an element of vulnerability. She put me completely at ease – she was very chatty, perfectly charming. She had a really good memory and remembered people she’d met years before. She asked me what paintings I liked, and at the time I was inspired by Gainsborough, so I told her. She said: “Oh I think we’ve got a few of those” with a great sense of humour.
Someone mentioned at the time that I’d made her look a little older in the painting – she was 69 – and I said I think she’d grow into it. Because to me, painters should conjure likeness but also the painting should represent the subject’s past, present and future.