Meet Queen Elizabeth’s portrait artist

Phil Richards is a Canadian artist and the second to be state commissioned to paint a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. He has always been driven by the idea that if you can “become good enough at making art…then the world will end up coming to you.”

His collaboration with the Queen began on Canada Day (July 1) in 2010 when he was given a photographic crew in Ottawa for the first sitting. “It was Canada Day and the sitting was done in Rideau Hall, not in the ballroom but in the tent room. She was there and that took a couple of hours,” says Richards.

“It wasn’t just a sitting with her and I, her people were there – her entourage – there were people from Rideau Hall that were there, officials from the government and there was even a film crew from the National Film Board making a film of me painting the picture,” he continues.

Painting the Queen was not completed on inspiration alone.  It involved a detailed process which Richards followed from the start of the project. The first thing he did was order a volume of art books about the English royal collection going back to the first recorded painting.

“I wanted to take a look at other artists that handled royal commissions and what I wanted to do with the Queen’s painting something that was different from what I’d seen before and try and get something of her personality that we rarely see,” says Richards.

“What I found was that on meeting her and spending time with her, her personality is much more relaxed and warm and kind of enthusiastic and even funny than what you see in the public eye,” he continues.

He visited the Queen February 2011 in the public audience room of Buckingham Palace, “It was just the two of us, but I had 25 different sketches, paintings, sculptures etc. to show her so I had to go through this whole kind of lecture about the process I was following,” he says.

The Queen had agreed to collaborate with Richards on the project right from the very beginning, which meant he would have to show her all of his sketches and procedures leading up to the painting, itself.

If they weren’t able to communicate in person, then they would do so via email and “she would ok things as we were going along,” explains Richards. He was able to show her sketches from his face study in person, “I took it to her and I said ‘okay, here’s a study that I’ve done that I think captures what I want to depict in the final painting,” says Richards.

He asked her what she thought and she responded with, “oh I like this, you made me look friendly” to which Richards cheekily countered with “and you’re not?” which made her laugh.

“She felt the same way about the sketch; that it showed a warmth of personality that is not often depicted in portraits of her,” says Richards.

The painting was transported to Canada via military plane and permanently displayed in the ballroom at Rideau Hall after a decision was made against touring it, or temporarily housing it in the National Gallery.

“The nice thing about the painting is that the setting is in Rideau Hall itself, it’s not a particular spot that the architectural elements from Rideau Hall had been used in the painting,” explains Richards.

There’s only been one state portrait of the Queen done in the 1950s and another one of the Queen and Prince Philip that hung in Rideau Hall, but it was not a state portrait.Only one state portrait is in Windsor Castle, in England, created in 1954 after her coronation.

Only one state portrait is in Windsor Castle, in England, created in 1954 after her coronation.

Richards will speak Nov. 12 at the Peel Art Gallery, Museum, and Archives from 1pm to 3pm, and discuss the artistic process.

For information www.pama.peelregion.ca.

 

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