To mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, we’re highlighting some of the ways Australian artists captured Her Majesty’s likeness throughout her 70-year reign.
Queen Elizabeth II – The Woman She Was
In Britain, the passing of Queen Elizabeth II signals the end of an unprecedented era. The Queen is dead; long live The King! But in Australia, there is grief not only for the death of a sovereign who gave her life to service but also for all this moment brings up about our confronting colonial history. With mixed emotions, we’ve mourned our Queen while also holding space to dream of what this might mean for Australia’s constitutional future.
For many in Australia, the period of mourning has been a reminder of the royal traditions, ceremonies and history we grew up with. From childhood to now, The Queen was a loved, respected and ever-present figurehead in our lives. And it’s profoundly sad to know – she’s gone.
Sir William Dargie’s wattle painting:
William Dargie (1912-2003), Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 1954.
Image: Historical Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection.
Affectionately known as the ‘wattle painting,’ this portrait commemorates The Queen’s first tour of Australia. The glamorous image of the young monarch, adorned in a wattle motif, became instantly recognisable to Australians as prints were displayed in public spaces throughout the country. Today the dreamlike image remains a beautiful reminder of Australia’s enduring love affair with its Queen.
Polly Borland’s quirky photograph
Polly Borland (b. 1959), HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2001. Image: National Portrait Gallery.
Polly Borland’s quirky and irreverent likeness of The Queen is striking for its somewhat absurdity. We’re used to seeing Her Majesty in more regal poses with an air of untouchability. Borland’s portrait, complete with a glittering backdrop – a nod to the Golden Jubilee it commemorates – looks more like a disco-themed passport photo of a much-loved eccentric aunt than what we’d expect from a commissioned portrait of a reigning monarch. And perhaps that’s why we (and reportedly, The Queen) love it so much!
Ralph Heimans’ Diamond Jubilee painting
Ralph Heimans (b. 1970), The Coronation Theatre: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2012. Image: Ralph Heimans.
This striking painting of Her Majesty was the only official portrait commemorating her Diamond Jubilee. With an imposing presence, which must only be intensified on viewing the enormous 2.5m x 3.4m work in person, the image conveys a visceral sense of solemnity and service. You can almost feel the weight of the coronation crown and all the burden and beauty it brought to the monarch over the (at the time) 60-year span of her reign.
Vincent Namatjira’s many paintings of The Queen
Vincent Namatjira (b.1983), The Royal Tour (Jubilee Balcony), 2022. Image: This Is No Fantasy.
Vincent Namatjira’s many works depicting The Queen and Royal Family boldly capture the royals with cartoon-like qualities, and many see the Indigenous artist himself inserted into the scene. On hearing of The Queen’s death, Namitjira told Ocula Magazine he’d ‘like to see Indigenous leaders and heroes past and present have the same level of recognition and respect that the royal family does.’
Perhaps that’s why in this depiction of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations we see the artist standing where the Duchess of Cambridge stood. Perhaps it’s a statement of hope that the (then) Prince of Wales might look to Indigenous Australia for our country’s future rather than to a one-day imagined queen. Perhaps this image, also showing The Queen celebrating her reign for what would be the last time and Prince Louis showing us the human side of the royals, says more about what we might imagine for our future than what our love for The Queen says about our past.
Hero image compliments of https://www.portrait.gov.au/portraits/2002.43/hm-queen-elizabeth-ii
Our art will remember her
As a figurehead and national sovereign, The Queen gave inspiration to many Australian artists, and we will remember the moments, memories and impacts of her incredible 70-year reign through the countless paintings, photographs, performances, writings and other artworks capturing it all.
Vale, Queen Elizabeth II.
‘Thy worldly task hast done.’