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FeaturesThe Queen

The sadness behind an historic portrait of the Queen


By Scan by Stan Shebs, Public Domain, Wiki Commons

At first glance, she is the very embodiment of regality but look closer and the hint of mourning behind an iconic image of the Queen becomes clear. On February 26th 1952, Elizabeth II posed for her first official portrait as Monarch with her gentle smile hiding the grief she felt as this famous photo was taken. For less than three weeks earlier she had lost her beloved father, King George VI.

Just twenty days into what would become a record breaking reign, the young Queen was captured on camera by famous society photographer, Dorothy Wilding. She took dozens of pictures that day, 59 in total, and they were needed. The new Monarch’s image had to be imprinted on stamps and sent to British embassies around the world where her face would now look out as the emblem of her country.

Elizabeth II turned to old favourites to get her through this photo shoot. She wore a selection of gowns designed by Norman Hartnell who was well established as a couturier to the Royal Family and had created the Queen’s celebrated wedding dress. She also chose a tiara she loved, wearing the Girls of Britain and Ireland diadem for some of her portraits that day. And Dorothy Wilding, the woman she asked to create the first image of her as a Monarch, was also well known to the Windsors.

In fact, she had taken the photographs used to create the image of King George VI on stamps and coins following his own unexpected accession in 1936. She had also taken the official photos at his Coronation in 1937 and had been rewarded with a Royal Warrant in 1943, the first female photographer to receive one.

Wilding created an unforgettable image that day in February 1952. Her portraits of the Queen were used on stamps, coins and banknotes and became the defining public face of the new Monarch for the first two decades of her reign.

They are classic, historic and very, very royal. But look closely and behind that enigmatic smile you will find the trace of grief for the terrible and unexpected loss the Queen had just gone through.

About author

Lydia is a writer, blogger and journalist. She's worked in the media for over twenty years as a broadcast reporter, producer and editor as well as feature and online writer. As well as royals and royal history, she's a news junkie and podcaster.