Elizabeth II: a photogenic queen


Pour ses 88 ans, Elizabeth II « s’est fait tirer le portrait ». Une nouvelle représentation de la reine d’Angleterre qui s’émancipe de toutes les règles et des conventions traditionnelles. Un portrait sur lequel le photographe David Bailey a voulu capter « le regard malicieux » de la femme la plus respectée du Royaume-Uni. 


At 88, Queen Elizabeth is used to posing in front of cameras. Portrayed in over 800 photos and paintings, she is the most depicted Queen ever. And although it is black and white, this new portrait really breaks with tradition and with her first conventional portraits. Whereas she looked very strict in her former portraits, Elizabeth II smiles here, which is unexpected and rather funny.

In Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39), portraitist Miss La Creevy ponders the problem: ”There are two styles of portrait; the serious and the smirk; and we always use the serious for professional people, and the smirk for private lady and gentlemen who don’t care so much about looking clever”. Thus the Queen seems to break the codes with her smile. Nevertheless, she wears the Cambridge pendant which once belonged to her great-great-grandmother, a 19th century Duchess of Cambridge, and the brooch is another small symbol of the royal family’s continuity and tradition. Bailey and the Queen may have wanted to cleverly mix tradition with originality to bring lovely looking human contact together with Britain’s monarchy and royal history.

This portrait of the Queen was commissioned by the British government for the “GREAT Britain” campaign, whose goal is to promote Great Britain in 144 countries and thus to attract as many tourists and businessmen as possible. It could bring approximately nine billion extra pounds for Great Britain in 2013-2014. Indeed, Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, praised the portrait and said it helps to “showcase everything that is great about the United Kingdom to an international audience”. This campaign shows that the mere face of Queen Elizabeth can be used as an unprecedented marketing tool for her kingdom. 

When the Queen was photographed in March 2007, Annie Leibovitz produced a portrait full of grandeur. She explored the Palace gardens for days and added a palatial background. The result was wilfully artificial, like a fable, and intended to suggest the Queen was more than just a person and represented not just her subjects but regality in the abstract, and, by association, queens as we’ve thought of them since childhood, in fairy tales and on playing cards, as well as on stamps and coins.


David Bailey did none of that. In his portrait, there is no background, only the Queen and her attitude towards the photographer, and through him, the viewerIn reality, with this portrait, Elizabeth II wants to project a new vision of the monarchy and the Queen in Great Britain and the world. She decides to present a new modern image of the sovereign, closer to her people and more suitable to her time. Moreover, maybe because she’s closer to the end of her reign, she might consider that she can afford to be more flexible and less strict in enforcing royal protocol. As could already be seen in Stephen Frears‘ movie The Queen, Britons may be witnessing yet another revival of the British monarchy.



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