From corgis to controversy: The most striking portraits of Queen Elizabeth II

Having spent 70 years as the head of state for the United Kingdom and a host of other Commonwealth countries, it was inevitable Queen Elizabeth II would become as much a cultural icon as a political one.

The monarch sat for more than 200 official portraits throughout her reign, working with artists using techniques ranging from Renaissance-style painting to holographic photography.

A supporter of the arts, she contributed her own ideas when required but was known for being willing to allow modern artists to achieve their own vision.

While over the years her official portraiture shifted from predominantly paintings to photographs, some of the most striking images of the Queen remain those rendered on canvas.

Here’s a look at some of the most iconic painted portraits of Queen Elizabeth II over the course of her reign – from the traditional to the modern to the downright bizarre.

Pietro Annigoni, 1955

A man in a suit stands to the left of a lit-up, wall-mounted painting of a young, regal-looking Queen Elizabeth.
Pietro Annigoni’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II at the National Portrait Gallery.(Reuters: Stefan Wermuth)

Unlike many previous monarchs, Queen Elizabeth never had a court painter.

But Italian artist Pietro Annigoni, a traditionalist who favoured Renaissance-style methods, was a favourite of the Queen and produced a number of popular paintings of her between 1954 and 1972.

His 1955 portrait, commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, was a hit with the public if not the critics, with The Times reportedly saying it sacrificed “the reality of the monarch to the idea of the monarchy”.

The painting depicts the Queen wearing the dark blue robes of the Order of the Garter, and portrays her standing in front of a majestic landscape, despite the sitting taking place indoors at Buckingham Palace.

Susan Crawford, 1977

A painting of a young Queen Elizabeth II riding a brown horse through the English countryside.
Susan Crawford’s 1977 portrait, titled Her Majesty the Queen on Worcran.(Royal Collection Trust)

Equestrian artist Susan Crawford’s Her Majesty the Queen on Worcran was a gift to the Queen from the Household Cavalry and Foot Guards in the British army.

The painting, intended to reflect the Queen’s love of the outdoors, captures her riding the Queen Mother’s ex-racehorse Worcran through the grounds of Windsor.

Crawford famously reported feeling dizzy as the Queen rode in circles around her for the portrait sitting.

Andy Warhol, 1985

Two women hold up a bright pink, square portraite of Queen Elizabeth II for photographers in an art gallery.
Phillips gallery assistants pose with a print from Andy Warhol’s Reigning Queens.(Reuters: Tom Nicholson)

Pop artist Andy Warhol produced a limited edition of 40 screen prints of the Queen in 1985, based on an official photographic portrait taken in 1975.

Part of his Reigning Queens series, which also included portraits of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Queen Ntfombi Twala of Swaziland and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, they are unmistakably Warhol, rendered in his signature multicoloured style.

Warhol himself reportedly considered the works a low point of his career, and was particularly irritated about their exhibition in a New York art gallery that year, writing in The Andy Warhol Diaries: “They were supposed to be only for Europe — nobody here cares about royalty.”

A set of four of the prints is currently on show at Windsor Castle after being acquired by the Royal Collection in 2012.

Michael Leonard, 1986

A painting of a kind-looking Queen Elizabeth II on a gold-leaf-patterned couch with a corgi resting against her leg.
Michael Leonard’s 1986 portrait of Queen Elizabeth II with her corgi Spark.(National Portrait Gallery)

Michael Leonard’s traditional yet relaxed portrait of the Queen, commissioned by Reader’s Digest to commemorate her 60th birthday, was a favourite of royalists.

Seated in the Yellow Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, the Queen is pictured smiling towards the viewer as her corgi Spark leans up lovingly against her.

Leonard said his goal was to produce a “straightforward, rather informal picture that would tend to play down the remoteness of Her Majesty’s special position”.

Justin Mortimer, 1998

A young man in a suit stands smiling next to a surreal portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on a bright yellow background.
Justin Mortimer with his portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in 1999.(Getty Images: Richard Franck Smith/Sygma)

Justin Mortimer’s modern take on Britain’s monarch is perhaps the most controversial on this list.

He was just 27 when he was commissioned by the Royal Society of the Arts to mark the 50th anniversary of the society’s association with the Queen.

While Mortimer has said he didn’t set out to be controversial, he nevertheless refused to compromise his abstract style, painting her like the rest of his subjects at the time — that is, based on a series of close-up polaroids and using a process that tended to result in “disjoined limbs and slightly dismembered heads”.

Unveiled in early 1998 — a time of public dissatisfaction with the monarchy, a few months after the death of Princess Diana — it was met with a frosty reception.

“Silly artist cuts off the Queen’s head”, read the Daily Mail headline.

Lucian Freud, 2001

The back of a man's head fills most of the frame as he looks at a small, wall-mounted portrait of a scowing Queen Elizabeth II.
A gallery visitor inspects Lucian Freud’s tiny portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.(Reuters: Stefan Wermuth)

Lucian Freud’s portrait of the Queen was also controversial, though for different reasons.

The intensely private Freud compared the task of painting the Queen to “undertaking a polar exhibition”, and required multiple sittings, taking place from May 2000 to December 2001.

However, he ultimately produced a tiny portrait — unflattering, layered with thick paint and measuring just six by nine inches.

Apparently not one for planning ahead, he had to extend his canvas vertically midway through the marathon effort to include the Queen’s diadem.

Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy, 2002

A colourful painting of a tall Queen Elizabeth II in a purple dress in front of an imaginary landscape.
Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for her 2002 Golden Jubilee.(Reuters: Ho New)

Nigerian-born artist Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy was commissioned to paint the Queen’s official global portrait for the Golden Jubilee in 2002.

Rather than set the Queen against a particular backdrop, Chukwuogo-Roy created an imaginary landscape, featuring iconic buildings and landmarks from around the world.

An accomplished artist whose work is regularly featured in some of the most prestigious galleries in the world, Chukwuogo-Roy later spoke of her mixed feelings about the commission, telling the BBC: “When I’m being written about or talked about, it’s always ‘The black artist that painted the Queen’, which I find almost an insult.”

Rolf Harris, 2005

A white haired man with black-rimmed glasses stands beside a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II as photographers take pictures.
Rolf Harris at the unveiling of his portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in 2005.(AP Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth)

At the time of its unveiling, Australian entertainer Rolf Harris’s portrait of the Queen – the sittings for which were documented in the 2006 documentary The Queen –  was well received.

That changed after Harris’s conviction for child sex crimes in 2014, which resulted in him serving three years in prison and the Queen ultimately stripping him of the CBE she had bestowed on him after the portrait’s unveiling.

The portrait initially went on display at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace for six months. Harris later offered it to the National Portrait Gallery, which turned it down.

The current whereabouts of the portrait is unknown — it was last seen in public at Liverpool’s Walker Gallery, but the gallery no longer has it.

The BBC says it is not in its possession.

George Condo, 2006

A cartoonish-looking portrait of Queen Elizabeth II makes her look more like Popeye the Sailor.
George Condo’s Dreams and Nightmares of the Queen, 2006.(Simon Lee Gallery)

New York artist and former punk bassist George Condo once described his 2006 portrait, titled Dreams and Nightmares of the Queen, as a “toothless Cabbage Patch Doll … a nightmare picture of herself in her own head”.

The Queen herself never commented publicly.

Ralph Heimans, 2012

A painting of a serious-looking Queen Elizabeth II in a darkened Westminster Abbey.
Ralph Heimans’ portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey.(

Australian artist Ralph Heimans had one hour to photograph the Queen before painting this picture, the only official portrait of Queen Elizabeth commissioned for the Diamond Jubilee.

During the sitting, the Queen chatted with the artist in a friendly manner about the time she had spent visiting Australia a few weeks prior.

However, that’s not apparent in the image produced — a sombre reflection on the burden of the monarch’s duty as she stands in Westminster Abbey, where she was crowned six decades earlier.

After being unveiled at Australia’s National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, the massive painting — it measures 2.5 metres by 3.5 metres — now hangs in Westminster Abbey itself.

It was vandalised in 2013 by a Fathers for Justice campaigner, who scrawled the word “Help” over the portrait to draw attention to issues with shared parenting.

The campaigner was later sentenced to six months in prison for criminal damage.

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