No official commissions have been made for an artist to record the coronation of King Charles III on 6 May. New music has been commissioned for the day from Judith Weir, the Master of the King’s Music, among others, and the Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, is expected to produce a poem, but no space has been found for an artist.
There have been official artists at coronations since at least the 17th century, and in 1953 a range of painters was invited to depict the event for Elizabeth II, with the resulting work now in the Government Art Collection.
Wenceslaus Hollar recorded the crowning of Charles II in 1660, George Nayler for George IV in 1821 and Frank Owen Salisbury for George VI in 1937. In 1953 there was a plethora including L.S. Lowry, Edward Ardizzone, John Stanton Ward, Kenneth Rowntree, Laura Knight, Edward Bawden, Terence Cuneo and Feliks Topolski.
Hundreds of drawings
Topolski was a prolific Polish-British painter and graphic artist who died in 1989. His grandson Lucien Topolski is to reopen his studio on 2 May under London’s Hungerford Bridge for an exhibition of the work of his grandfather to mark Charles III’s coronation, and in an attempt to revive the practice of artistic reportage. So delighted was Prince Philip with Feliks Topolski’s drawings in his A Coronation Album—effectively a strip of hundreds of drawings that took in the crowds, the official procession and culminating in the crowned Queen in state—that in 1959 he commissioned the artist to create a 29-metre-long mural of Elizabeth II’s coronation day for Buckingham Palace, where it remains in the Lower Corridor.
“It’s astonishing if there is to be no official artist recording the event in the kind of reportage Feliks made famous,” Lucien Topolski says. “There seems to be some kind of disconnect now between the value we place on art and the artist’s critical eye. Feliks represented a tradition of observation which we are in danger of losing.” Instead he is organising a team of students from the London College of Communication to continue the coronation tradition unofficially and revive Topolski’s hand-produced Chronicle magazine.
In 1953 the artists were commissioned by the Government Art Collection, but this time enquiries were referred through the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to Buckingham Palace, which responded only with “no comment”. The National Portrait Gallery has confirmed it is not commissioning any artists, “although we’ll look to reflect this historic event in the collection”, a spokesperson says. The Royal Academy of Arts, of which the monarch is traditionally “Patron, Protector and Supporter”, has not been consulted, says its president, Rebecca Salter.