My wife the Queen: Prince Philip reveals his hidden talent for painting
By Beth Hale
She has sat for many an artist and her image has been captured on canvas countless times.
But rarely has the Queen been captured in quite so informal a pose.
Sitting at a beautifully-laid table, reading a paper, with a fresh loaf of bread and a pot of marmalade in front of her – she indulges in a leisurely breakfast.
Who, you might wonder, had such intimate access to the monarch at her breakfast table? Well her husband of course.
The Duke of Edinburgh is known for his appreciation of fine art, but less well known is his own talent for applying oils to canvas.
He painted this image – entitled The Queen at Breakfast, Windsor Castle – back in 1965 – and it has been part of his private collection ever since.
Now it features as one of the most surprising images in a new book, The Royal Portrait Image and Impact, to be published by the Royal Collections on Monday.
The painting offers an initimate glimpse of the Queen off duty, a second place setting at her side presumably the artist’s.
MANAGING THE BRAND
Queen Victoria had strong views about how she was portrayed and had favourite painters for State portraits. However she could not control photographs to the same extent. The photographer could not flatter and idealise to the same extent as an artist.
The ability of a photographer to represent the actual likeness of the sitter disconcerted Queen Victoria to the extent that in a group photograph with her children in 1852 she erased the image of her own face, perhaps not liking how she appeared.
This was possible in early photography in a daguerreotype which she smudged with her finger. The carbon-copy print of the same image shows that The Queen, unlike her children seated around her had her eyes closed, and it was not a flattering image
The table is covered with a crisp white tablecloth, the plates, cups and saucers are white china, and there is a whole loaf of fresh bread with a jar of what appears to be marmalade, the spoon standing poised for use inside.
At the edge of the table is what appears to be a wireless radio, and the Queen is perusing the pages of a newspaper
The grandeur of the Windsor Castle dining room is the setting, and on the walls are two paintings by a considerably better known artist – George Stubbs.
Absent from the scene is any sign of a Tupperware container, an item which has more recently appeared on the breakfast table at Buckingham Palace.
In 2003, after an undercover reporter had spent two months as a royal footman, it was revealed that in the first-floor dining room at breakfast time, the Queen loses herself in the Racing Post while Philip listens to a small and ageing transistor radio.
It was also discovered that breakfast cereals such as cornflakes and porridge oats were kept in simple plastic Tupperware containers.
But not so in 1965.
Prince Philip himself agreed to allow the Royal Collection to use the impressionistic study in the new book.
Last night author Jennifer Scott, Assistant Curator of Paintings at the Royal Collection, said she was delighted when she came across the painting as she researched the book.
‘I think generally people don’t known that the Duke of Edinburgh paints, it’s quite a private pursuit.
‘I think it’s a really good painting, it’s a got a real quality to it – it seems such a private moment, the Queen sitting having her breakfast, she could be anybody.
‘But the two paintings in the background are both by George Stubbs and are in the Royal Collection, so it’s a bit of a clue as to who the sitter is.’
The duke’s interest in art, both as an artist and collector, dates back decades.
He invited the artist Edward Seago to accompany him in HMY Britannia for the Antarctic and later stages of his 1956/57 World Tour.
On the trip to Antarctica, he is said to have got fed up with his own paintings and preferred to watch Seago, to whom he felt rather inadequate by comparison.
In 2007 a selection of the duke’s oils was displayed next to watercolours by his son Prince Charles at Sandringham House.
Many of his paintings are of landscapes seen whilst travelling in HMY Britannia, and of the Royal estates.
He is understood to still enjoy painting now, signing his work with a Greek ‘P’ – ‘Phi’.
And his work seems to get the critical seal of approval.
Critic Robin Simon, editor of the British Art Journal, said: ‘This is a delightful painting, well up to the Duke’s usual high standard.
‘He comes from a long line of royal artists of real accomplishment. His father Prince Andrew of Greece like, dare I say it, his son Prince Charles, could easily have made a career in the fine arts if they were not otherwise engaged.
‘This particular painting fits into the tradition the ‘conversation piece’, a British tradition of showing people small scale in moments of informality, often within very grand interiors.
‘He alludes to the Queen’s love of horses by showing two of her great paintings by George Stubbs in the background, Soldiers of the Light Dragoons and The Prince of Wales’s Phaeton.’
David Lee, editor of the satirical art magazine Jackdaw, is a little more parsimonious with his praise: ‘This is competent amateur work, a pleasant, private keepsake. You can’t expect Goya from a Sunday painter.
‘Remember, paintings precious to us don’t have to be masterpieces first and last.’