Queen Elizabeth II and her preferences in art

March 13, 1953. Queen Elizabeth II stands in front of the famous painting by Franz Winterhalter. Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

In June, the world celebrated the platinum jubilee, or 70th anniversary, of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The identity of Elizabeth II is shrouded in mystery. We know no more about her aesthetic preferences than about her love for horses, scarves, or dark red carpets.

The superb royal collection of paintings and sculptures is held in trust, which means that technically the queen cannot dispose of it at her own will. Most of the more than 5,550 items purchased during her reign are gifts from foreign and British dignitaries, such as a basket from Tonga (1954) or a grain jar from Canada.

Allegedly, when the Prince of Wales spoke unflatteringly about the quality of these items, Elizabeth retorted: “I have no taste, so I really like it.” But what kind of art the queen prefers remains a mystery.

Basket given to Queen Elizabeth II of Tonga by Salote Mafileo Pilolev Tukuaho III in 1954.
Photo: Royal Collection Trust

Arnold Machin, who came to Balmoral to paint a portrait of the queen, told how she knitted after dinner, surrounded by her friends and Scottish cousins. The profile created by Machin for the Royal Mint was very much to Elizabeth’s liking, as were his 1970s cameo portraits of Prince Charles and portraits for Wedgwood porcelain.

British postage stamps depicting Elizabeth II.
Photo: TASS

Elizabeth loves stamps since the suggestion of her philatelist grandfather, King George V. The Queen has objected to illustrator David Gentleman’s decision to remove her profile from stamp designs. Then the Gentleman simplified her image to a medallion, and the postmaster general Tony Benn laid out all the options on the carpet in Buckingham Palace so that Elizabeth chose the best one.

Owning original drawings by Leonardo, and paintings by Holbein and van Dyck, Her Majesty, however, seems to be the perfect embodiment of common sense, which is above tastes. Those who know the royal tastes for sure will no longer be able to tell us about them. Everyone who was the keeper of her collection and secrets has already passed away. We only know her as we are allowed to know.


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