Andy Warhol’s Queen Elizabeth II 334 is a screenprint included in his Reigning Queens portfolio. Warhol completed the series in 1985, just two years before his death. As one of his largest portfolios, Reigning Queens contains 16 prints, depicting four different monarchs of the time (although the edition size is one of his smallest). The series includes Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland, and Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. Warhol later produced a “Royal Edition” of Reigning Queens, which incorporates diamond dust to give the prints a sparkly effect.
To create the portfolio, Warhol used the official photograph released to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. Photographer Peter Grugen took the Queen’s portrait at Windsor Castle in 1975. Official portraits of monarchs like those Warhol used for this series often appear on currency and stamps, once again evoking the artist’s fascination for mass production and repetition. After using a photograph for the screen print, Warhol overlaid abstract blocks of color, similar to his collage-like Mick Jagger series. Using the silkscreen method, he was also able to highlight the queens’ jewelry, emphasizing their royal standing. These portraits are large and filled with extravagant colors, reflecting society’s view of the queens.
Warhol was know for his studies of consumerism and celebrities, such as the ultra famous Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe series. However, he found great inspiration in global figures and political leaders as well. Along with queens, he created images of figures like Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Jimmy Carter, and even Alexander the Great. More specifically, feminine power entranced Warhol. Reigning Queens thus combines a number of his fascinations. His other stunning portraits of female figures include Jacqueline Kennedy, Karen Kain, Greta Garbo, and various Drag Queens.
Warhol originally created Reigning Queens 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.”
Queen Elizabeth II 334 showcases Warhol’s coveted silkscreen technique at the height of his skill, maintaining collage-like elements and intricate detailing. 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. They are the only portraits of herself that Queen Elizabeth owned for which she did not pose for. These prints seemed to bring Warhol one step closer to his ultimate wish: “I want to be as famous as the Queen of England.”