Queen Elizabeth II 337 is a screen print by Andy Warhol completed in 1985. The portrait depicts one of the four monarchs in Andy Warhol’s Reigning Queens collection. This series contains four portraits of each four monarchs at the time, including Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland, and above, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. This collection debuted in 1985 and became Warhol’s largest series, published two years before his death in February 1987. In Queen Elizabeth II 337, the bright blue surrounding the queen emphasizes her strength and empowerment. The gradient change from bold blue to white gracefully draws one’s attention to the Queen’s white dress and soft pale skin.
Like many of Warhol’s works, he created these prints with the silkscreen method. Warhol enjoyed using silk screening due to the ease of creating repetitive prints. While Warhol typically created exact reproductions of portraits, each queen is unique with its own vibrant colors and added detailing. In this portrait, Warhol chooses to outline the queen’s hair and crown in red, allowing the viewer’s eyes to focus on her bright face. Further, the red outlines emphasize the Queen’s blue eyes in the center of the picture.
Celebrity and fame fascinated Warhol, who had a specific love for female power. Notably, all four monarchs of this series obtained the throne due to birthright and not marriage. Warhol often created portraits of female figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, and various Drag Queens. Here, Warhol takes a unique approach by using royalty as his inspiration. He thus confronts his audience with a powerful image of female authority.
In 1977, American editor Leo Lerman called Warhol and requested a commissioned portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for Vogue magazine. 8 years later, Warhol decided to produce his 16-print collection of the four monarchs. Warhol initially created the collection for the UK, and fussed about the showing in America in his diary. “I had my opening at Leo Castelli’s to go to, of the Reigning Queens portfolio that I just hate George Mulder for showing here in America. [It was] supposed to be only for Europe—nobody here cares about royalty and it’ll be another bad review”.
Along with royalty, Warhol found interest in political leaders. We see this in his portraits of Nixon, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong. For all of Warhol’s Queens portraits, he used official media photographs. These state portraits appeared on stamps and currency, evoking Warhol’s fascination for mass-production and the repetitive nature of things. The photograph, taken by Peter Grugeon at Windsor Castle on April 2nd, 1975, was used for the queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.
The Reigning Queens collection holds significance today as three of the four queens are still in power. Queen Elizabeth II 337 showcases Warhol’s coveted silkscreen technique, while also maintaining collage-like elements. It is thus a supreme example of Warhol’s artistry and technique. In 2012, the Royal Collection purchased prints of Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate her 60 years on the throne. The portfolio seemed to bring Warhol one step closer to his ultimate wish: “I want to be as famous as the Queen of England” -Andy Warhol.