The Queen is one of the most popular portrait subjects across the world. However, portraits of Her Majesty are often scrutinised far more than anyone else’s. Lucien Freud’s 2001 portrait of her, “Queen Elizabeth II”, is one of the most divisive royal portraits, and twenty years on is still spurring discussion. It will be going on display at the National Gallery in late 2022.
Freud was born in 1922 in Berlin to Jewish parents, and he and his family moved to the United Kingdom in 1933 to escape the quickly rising Nazi party. (Famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud is his paternal grandfather.) At the beginning of his painting career, he was influenced by the surrealist movement, but for most of his career, he worked in a realist style.
One of the most notable British portrait painters of the twentieth century, his portraits were most often sombre and stark. And that is how many people feel about his portrait of The Queen.
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As reported in The Guardian, the editor of the British Art Journal, Robin Simon, said: “It makes her look like one of her corgis who has suffered a stroke. It is a huge error for Lucian Freud. He has gone a portrait too far.” Other critics have said that The Queen appears to have a five o’clock shadow and that she looks to be wearing some sort of mask.
The Guardian’s art critic at the time praised the painting as being possibly the best royal portrait in the last century and a half, but that sentiment is not echoed widely.
Lucien Freud: New Perspectives is opening at the National Gallery on 1 October 2022 and runs through 22 January 2023. The exhibition will mark the centenary of Freud’s birthday and features over 50 pieces. The portrait of The Queen, currently held by the Royal Collection Trust, will be included in the exhibition.