This work is from Warhol’s Reigning Queens 1985 portfolio. Although Tate holds only this print from the series, the original portfolio of sixteen prints was made up of four images of each of the four female monarchs who were ruling in the world at the time of the portfolio’s publication: Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland. Warhol also made paintings of each of these subjects. The works were based on official or media photographs of the monarchs. Queen Elizabeth’s portrait is made from a photograph taken in 1977 for her Silver Jubilee. The photographic silkscreen technique used is central to Warhol’s practice, employed in both his prints and paintings.
The same basic image of each queen appears in each of her four prints but they vary in colour. This print has a primarily red background, and features graphic shapes printed from separate screens. Warhol began working in this style in the mid-1970s, fragmenting the image with various overlayed shapes and patches of colour. In contrast to his earlier prints where the appearance of impersonal, mechanical reproduction was essential to their meaning, these interventions in the image gave the work a deliberately ‘artistic’ look. In many of his female portraits, such as here, the multicoloured surfaces and suggestion of make-up enhance the glamour and femininity of the subjects. With characteristic ambivalence, Warhol explained his additions to these later prints as immaterial:
‘I really would still rather do just a silkscreen of the face without all the rest, but people expect just a little bit more. That’s why I put in all the drawing.’ (Barry Blinderman, ‘Modern Myths: An Interview with Andy Warhol’, Arts, October 1981, p.145.)
The Reigning Queens series brings together many of Warhol’s central themes – celebrity, portraiture, consumerism, decoration and the extremes of social hierarchy. Warhol’s portraits are often about the public face or surface image, and this is a typical example. Here the queen’s face appears as an impenetrable mask. Warhol enhances the celebrity portrait’s powerful iconic presence through repetition of the image.
This work is published in an edition of forty with ten artist’s proofs, five printer’s proofs and three hors commerce. This print is number seven in the edition. There are further thirty trial proof portfolios each containing one unique image of each queen. The work is also published as a Royal Edition with diamond dust on the drawing lines, published in an edition of thirty with five artist’s proofs, two printer’s proofs and two hors commerce.
Freyda Feldman and Jörg Schellmann, Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1987, 4th edition, 2003, reproduced p.142 in colour.
The Prints of Andy Warhol, exhibition catalogue, Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain, 1990.
Andy Warhol, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, 2002.