The Daily Telegraph

‘I got a real sense of her humanity’



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.

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