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. 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 politics 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.
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”.
The Reigning Queens collection holds significance today as three of the four queens are still in power. Queen Elizabeth II 334 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. They are the only portraits owned by the queen for which she did not pose for. The portfolio seemed to bring Warhol one step closer to his ultimate wish: “I want to be as famous as the Queen of England.”