When lights dimmed in the West End to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II on 8 September 2022, the gesture also signalled the end of an era for the many London arts hubs of which she was patron.
This week at Cherchez La Femme, we want to pay homage to our Queen by highlighting the close connection she always had with the world of art. Being art lovers ourselves, the end of her reign also marks the end of memorable and glamorous appearances within the London art scene.
Patron of many London institutions which bear the Royal name because of her, including the Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal Ballet, the Queen has also been custodian of one of the greatest art collections in the world: The Queen’s Gallery. This last one is endowed with gifts and the foresighted purchases of the Queen’s ancestors and is a window into the once opulent world of the British monarchy.
In 1967, she opened the Queen Elizabeth Hall with its debut concert conducted by the composer Benjamin Britten, whom she knighted 10 years later. Throughout the years, she attended 35 Royal Variety Performances which showed her love for musicals. In fact, Her Majesty's Theatre in Haymarket, home of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ for half of the late Queen's reign, will be renamed His Majesty's.
From her love for ABBA’s music to the many pictures of her meeting with the Royal Ballet’s dancers, it is in the subject of plays, films and television that the Queen left her greatest legacy to the arts. In fact, she was the subject of many plays throughout the years: Alan Bennett’s ‘A Question of Attribution’ in the 1980s, Peter Morgan’s ‘The Audience’ and more lately, the Netflix hit ‘The Crown’.
In the past few years, she had also started supporting the Fashion Industry, of which we will always be an icon for. In 2018, The BFC launched a Queen Elizabeth II Award for Design, established to highlight emerging British design talent. Richard Quinn was the first recipient, and was recognised for his impact on the fashion industry and the development of his print studio. The Queen was, of course, present during Quinn’s London Fashion Week runway and sitting next to Vogue’s Anna Wintour, and presented Quinn with the award at the ceremony. Since then, designers such as Bethany Williams, Priya Ahluwalia and Saul Nash have been selected as recipients of this prestigious prize.
Most recently, in July 2022, the Queen launched a series of exhibitions at various Royal residences on the occasion of her Platinum Jubilee. These showcase a range of garments and jewellery worn by her such as the Coronation Dress, the Robe of Estate and iconic looks worn throughout the years and will be on until October 2022.
She has appeared in plays, novels, fashion shows, paintings and even love songs throughout the years. From Andy Warhol to Alan Bennett, artists, writers and musicians have changed our picture of the Queen we think we knew. In the collective eyes, even in our dreams, Elizabeth II has been a constant symbol of authority and regimented splendour. But towards the end of her reign, in a less deferential age, the monarch has been given a range of artistic treatments, many of them subversive, from Andy Warhol’s pop art portrait, to the one where the monarch’s eyes are shut, Chris Levine’s 2004 Lightness of Being.
Former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s poem also called The Crown marked 60 years since the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. It concludes with the lines:
“Time-gifted, the crown is old light, journeying from skulls of kings
to living Queen.
Its jewels glow, virtues; loyalty's ruby, blood-deep; sapphire's ice resilience; emerald evergreen;
the shy pearl, humility. ‘My whole life, whether it be long
or short, devoted to your service’. Not lightly worn.”
With a country in mourning, it is only fair that The Natural History Museum, Science Museum and National Gallery all closed on Monday 19 September, the day of the Queen’s funeral, and all performances at the National Theatre that day were cancelled as well as London Fashion Week toning down their promotion in respect to Her Majesty and the Royal Family.
Our hearts go out to the royal family at this very difficult time, R.I.P. HM Queen Elizabeth II.
Cherchez La Femme team X
[Information sourced on theguardian.com and culturewhisper.com
Image 1: Queen Elizabeth at Balmoral Castle with one of her corgis, in September 1952 by Bettmann
Image 2: Queen Elizabeth II after her June 1953 coronation ceremony, in Westminster Abbey, London by Hulton Archive
Image 3: Reigning Queens, 1985, by Andy Warhol]