The Queen viewed the unveiling of a new portrait of herself to be placed at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last week, undertaking another rare engagement via video link from Windsor Castle.
Her Majesty was joined by Sir Simon McDonald, the Permanent Undersecretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Head of the Diplomatic Service, as well as the portrait artist Miriam Escofet, for the unveiling.
“She seemed to react very positively to it,” said Escofet afterwards. “She was smiling, asking how long it took and if I had any more projects on the go after this. When I explained certain elements of the painting, the teacup, she made some amusing comments. She said ‘but there’s no tea in the cup.’” The teacup featured a surprise element – its saucer had the insignia of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office painted onto it, with it reflected against the cup.
In a blog post on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, Escofet writes about her experience in painting this portrait and her inspiration. She said, “Right from the outset, I wanted the painting to reflect what I sensed as a strong aura around The Queen. I thought the gold of the chair and the white of her hair created a focal point of light and energy around her, which I really liked as a visual representation of this. I deliberately set this as the strongest point of light in the work.”
The Queen sat for two sittings with Escofet, last summer and again this past February. She revealed that McDonald had wanted the portrait to reflect one painted by Pietro Annigoni at the beginning of The Queen’s reign as “he felt no painter had so captured her humility and dignity in the second half of her reign and he hoped this portrait would be a culmination – and these ideas stayed with me throughout the painting process.”
“It was, of course, a huge honour to be asked to paint The Queen, but all the more special for me as this came as a result of Sir Simon having seen my winning portrait of my mother at the BP Portrait Award 2018 at the National Portrait Gallery. It was an added unexpected gift that my mother’s portrait brought me!” Escofet wrote.
The Queen also spoke with McDonald and other staff members at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to hear how they have been operating during the pandemic. She praised their work in quickly shifting over to help with the government’s pandemic relief rollout, and how they helped repatriate Britons overseas before the borders closed.
Aletheia Bligh-Flowers said afterwards, “She was very sharp. She said it was an extraordinary effort and she was very impressed by the incredible work we’d all done. It was really lovely to hear.
She continued, “It provides a moment of reflection really. You spend every day working at your kitchen table, and something like this makes you realise what you have achieved.
It was really nice to have her help us reflect on the achievements of the last few months.”