The portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Warhol is a limited edition screenprint, created by Andy Warhol, from the Reigning Queens series of 1985, composed of large portraits of four reigning queens: Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and Ntfombi Tfwala of Swaziland (now Eswatini). The Canadian auction house Heffel, in 2022, surpassed all previous records by selling one of these portraits – part of the Royal Edition, a deluxe edition of only 30 copies with diamond dust – for around € 820,000!
The original photograph of Elizabeth II used for Warhol’s portrait was taken by Peter Grugeon at Windsor Castle in 1975, published in 1977 to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. According to the auction house experts, the Queen is wearing in the photo the Grand Duchess Vladimir’s diamond and pearl tiara, a diamond and pearl necklace, and a blue sash with a portrait medallion of her father, King George VI. Her expression, similar to that of the Mona Lisa, is warm but dignified, and seems to look beyond the photographer.
The story behind the creation of the Reigning Queens series has been documented. In 1982, Warhol’s European dealer and publisher, George C.P. Mulder, wrote to the Queen’s Private Secretary, Sir William Heseltine, expressing Warhol’s desire to produce a series of screenprinted portraits of the monarch. The initial response was quite courteous but not entirely positive – “Although the Queen certainly does not wish to hinder Mr. Warhol, she would not dream of offering any comment on this idea.” However, three years later, the Queen saw photographs of Warhol’s screenprints and was enthusiastic about them. In 1985, Warhol created the Reigning Queens series, which also included the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen has shown great appreciation for Warhol’s series over the years. In 2012, she purchased the suite of four prints from the Royal Edition with diamond dust, and then displayed them at Windsor Castle in the exhibition “The Queen: Portraits of a Monarch”, along with other famous works of art depicting the Queen, such as those by Annie Leibovitz, Dorothy Wilding, and Lucian Freud.
As anticipated, one of Andy Warhol’s artworks depicting the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was sold by the Canadian auction house Heffel Fine Art in 2022 for around €820,000, in a bidding war starting from an estimate of about half the winning price and far surpassing the previous record held by Sotheby’s for €640,000.