December 23

Rolf Harris paints The Queen

According to James Button, writing in The Sydney Morning Herald on 20 December, 2005, when he began painting The Queen, Rolf Harris was worried: "It  didn’t look like The Queen at all…It was a bit stressful when I couldn’t get the likeness right. Without a good likeness you are dead in the water."

“I wanted to avoid that state portrait thing with the jewels and the pomp and splendour," he said. "I wanted to capture the lady as she is, with her humanity and reality."

So he tried to make her smile. Finding Her Majesty  was at first rather formal,  he decided not to use the catchphrase from his TV performances, "Can you tell what it is yet?" . Instead, he wondered whether she minded the smell of turpentine. "Well, we’ll tell soon, won’t we?" she replied.

Finally Mr.Harris got what he wanted. "I asked the Queen to look out the window then turn to me as if I were her favourite grandson and give me a welcoming smile," he said.

James Button writes that the painting – the Queen’s 180th official portrait – came about after the BBC producers approached the Palace with the idea for a "Rolf on Art" special. They were told The Queen was delighted with the idea and sat for Mr Harris over two days in June.

He says The Queen has a policy of never commenting on a finished work, but had some kind words when she saw the rough version. Rolf Harris says   "The Queen said it was a very friendly painting as she walked out the door…She never comments on a painting … so that was nice."

Critics were divided, but as The Australian’s  national art critic, Sebastian Smee points out, (23 December, 2005) Rolf Harris is highly regarded by the public. In 1992 he was named the world’s most famous artist in a poll by the London artMart exhibition. He came fifth in a Time magazine poll of the twentieth century’s most famous entertainers and artists.

Harris himself said: "Judge it for what it is and see what you think in relation to other portraits in the past.I’m not claiming it’s the greatest portrait of a royal family member ever – I feel it’s a nice painterly job."

Rolf Harris is a strong supporter of our constitutional monarchy, and believes The Queen and The Royal Family do a “fantastic job.”

It will be interesting to consider the painting after the broadcast of the related BBC programme. The painting  will go on display in The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace.

And to all our readers around the world , a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

And until next time.

David Flint

Click on this link to see the painting:

Click on this link for details of the Royal Collection, and to view the Royal e-Collection:


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