Demise of Queen Elizabeth: King Charles arrives in London

LONDON – When Chris Levine, a Canadian artist, was commissioned to create a holographic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, who died in Scotland on Thursday, he took an unusual approach to getting her to relax.

Levine burned incense sticks in the Yellow Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, where filming took place, and installed a light sculpture to gently pulse soothing colors around the room. He later encouraged the queen to close her eyes between takes and focus on her breathing as if she were in a meditation class.

“Looking back, it was pretty surreal,” Levine said in a February interview. “I tried to go beyond the Queen’s personality, to the essence of her being,” he recalled of his encounters with the monarch. “That’s where the real beauty lies.”

Levine’s methods may be unorthodox, but they produced several famous images of the queen, most notably “Lightness of Being,” which shows her with her eyes closed as if caught in a moment of spiritual reflection.

According to Levine, when he saw “Lightness of Being,” Mario Testino, the fashion photographer, said, “People need to see this. It’s the most beautiful picture.” Levine said he expects the picture to be shared widely on social media after the Queen’s death.

Queen Elizabeth sat on the British throne for hundreds of official portraits like Levine’s during her seven decades on the British throne. But what was it like for artists to meet them and try to make up their own minds? We spoke to three artists behind key portraits of the Queen to find out.

Here are edited excerpts from those conversations.

Recognition…Thomas Truth

“Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth II”, 2011

Thomas Struth, photographer

I did a lot more preparation than I would normally do for a family portrait.

I looked at a lot of photos of her – hundreds – and I thought, “People don’t see her as a person, as a woman.” I wanted to show the Queen and Prince Philip as an older couple who are very close and used to each other.

One of my requests was that I had to choose the Queen’s dress because I didn’t want to risk her showing up in a bright yellow dress that would make it impossible for me to get a good picture. When I looked at other portraits, she wore something light in so many and it made her chest the dominant signal and her face small.

On the day I thought they were surprised that everything was so well prepared. The queen’s dresser said, “You can touch the queen if you need it,” and after two or three exposures, I noticed that a pillow behind her back was misaligned, so I went over to her, moved her forward, and changed her position. She found that a bit surprising.

I exposed 17 plates and then I knew I was done. I just felt that I had the picture. I had 15 minutes left, but I gave that to them – some unprogrammed time.

I later heard that when they saw the picture in a museum, they stood in front of it for a long time. It’s quite large – 8 feet wide and maybe 6 feet tall – and it’s very, very sharp. You can see all of her veins. Prince Philip said: “How did he do that?”

Recognition…Justin Mortimer; Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts Manufacturers & Commerce; Bridgeman Pictures

“The Queen”, 1998

Justin Mortimer, painter

I was commissioned shortly after Diana’s death.

I was 27 and I think they chose me because they were interested in modernizing the public’s image of the monarchy, as they were reviled as these inward-looking, irrelevant people at the time.

It was a little overwhelming in the first session. When she walked in I immediately mispronounced her!

I started by taking some photos. She had a very, very straight gaze, and she never blinked even as I drew closer with my Polaroid camera. As I pulled away from her, I realized I had shot all those polaroids right in her lap, which was embarrassing, but she said, ‘Don’t worry love. Lord Snowden shot me with it the whole time.”

I just remember thinking, ‘I’m in the presence of this human being who met all the iconic people of the 20th century. Just down the corridor she would have met Jackie and JFK and Churchill and Idi Amin. Everyone from heroes to criminals.”

In my studio, the only way I could approach this was by painting her in the context of my other work at the time, and I had these figures with severed limbs and slightly dismembered heads, so I basically took her neck out. It was a little cheeky. I knew people would bring up ideas like “Cut off her head!”

I didn’t go in as an angry Republican. I just wanted to hint at that vein of unease towards the royal family at the time.

After it came out, newspapers all over the world called me and interviewed me, and people seemed really hurt by what I had done. But the fact that it’s still remembered shows that the work has almost iconic status.

I don’t know what the queen thought of that. But funnily enough, I was asked to do another portrait for the Royal Collection of Lord Chamberlain, who was that very grand old man of the royal household. I wonder if that gives you any idea of ​​the Queen’s sense of humor in getting me to “do business” with this fellow.

Recognition…Chris Levine (artist) and Rob Munday (holograph); Jersey Heritage Trust

Chris Levin

I wanted to do a holographic portrait of her and originally thought of doing a pulsed laser hologram which would have exposed Her Majesty to laser light. But I was getting nervous, for health and safety reasons, that someone would say, ‘You’re kidding, aren’t you? Do you want to fire lasers at the queen?”

So we came up with a different approach where we have a camera move along a track, take a series of 200 still images from left to right, and then create a hologram from each still.

I had one idea in mind from the start – to get over all the noise and reduce it to some kind of essence. I really wanted to make it iconic, something that resonates.

At that time I really started meditating and was almost evangelical about it. As the camera finished one run and reset, I asked Her Majesty to breathe. I had another camera in the middle of the lane and captured the image that became Lightness of Being while she was resting.

I called the first portrait I did “Equanimity” and I think she developed this mechanism of being equanimous and not revealing anything, almost to protect herself.

I showed her the work in progress at Windsor Castle – just me, her and her corgis – and asked her what she thought of the title and she said cryptically, “Well, things aren’t always what they seem.”

We talked about meditation, yes. She said her meditation is gardening at Balmoral.

For all the indifference I might have felt towards the Queen up to the Commission, I felt genuine affection for her by the end.

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