King Charles Has Loaned His Mother’s Portrait by Lucian Freud

King Charles already made his first exhibition loan, a portrait of his mother Queen Elizabeth II, by Lucian Freud

Oct 9, 2022By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Queen Elizabeth's II portrait by Lucian Freud
Queen Elizabeth’s II portrait by Lucian Freud


Queen’s “HM Queen Elizabeth II” portrait was installed towards the end of the mourning period in the National Gallery’s exhibition Lucian Freud: New Perspectives, which opened in London on 1st October and will last until 23rd January 2023.


Queen’s portrait as Freud’s alter-ego

Queen Elizabeth II and Lucian Freud
Via National Portrait Gallery


Elizabeth II received the artist’s work, Her Majesty the Queen (2000–01), as a gift two decades ago. The late monarch is depicted in Freud’s diminutive image, which stands about 25 cm tall and is hunched over by her diamond crown.


“HM Queen Elizabeth II” painting helped Freud establish himself in the lineage of famous Court Painters like Rubens (1577-1640) or Velázquez (1599–1660). Although Freud typically painted large, this composition, which is around nine and a half by six inches, is one of his smaller works. The British monarch is nonetheless portrayed as a commanding figure and her face dominates the entire picture.


The endeavor generated discussion and received mixed feedback (some saw it as a cheap publicity stunt by an artist with fading talent). Nevertheless, one can discern a raw intensity Freud had retained throughout his career and refused to diminish, regardless of his subject, in his candid analysis of the Queen’s looks.


Queen Elizabeth 1959
Via Wikipedia

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The queen being a symbolic representation of the artist himself, a sort of alter ego, is one of the more intriguing interpretations of this painting, as recently examined by independent art historian Simon Abrahams. The British press claimed the image didn’t look anything like the Queen, which supported the theory. The Queen’s aging features in this portrait are strikingly similar to Freud himself.


The Guardian’s Adrian Searle compared it to a Richard Nixon joke mask, or perhaps “the before half of a before-and-after testimonial for constipation tablets” but he also loved it.


“This is the only painted portrait of the Queen, or any other member of the current royal family, of any artistic or indeed human merit whatsoever,” he wrote. “It is probably the best royal portrait of any royal anywhere for at least 150 years”.


Queen’s portrait as the earliest loan under the new reign

King Charles III
King Charles III


With the exhibition label “Lent by His Majesty The King” this must be the earliest loan under the new reign. We can report that Freud’s painting did not end up in the Royal Collection but was the Queen’s personal property.


It’s unclear if her will (to be sealed as monarch for 90 years) stipulates that Freud’s ownership should pass to the collection or to her son. The Royal Collection’s website now admits the portrait “provoked mixed reactions”.


Besides Queen’s portrait, “The Credit Suisse Exhibition – Lucian Freud: New Perspectives” will feature over 65 loans from museums and major private collections across the world, including The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tate in London, the British Council Collection in London, and the Arts Council Collection in London.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.