Queen Margrethe II 344 by Andy Warhol is one of sixteen portraits from the Reigning Queens series published in 1985. The series includes four prints of four queens that were in power at the time: Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.
Although we usually think of Warhol as a portraitist of rock stars, actresses, and ‘celebrities,’ Reigning Queens is hardly the artist’s only foray into the images of global leaders. In fact, by painting portraits of people who we don’t often think of as celebrities in the traditional sense, Warhol was able to expand his generation’s perception of the concept of celebrity itself—allowing the term to encompass athletes, presidents, businesses men and women, and global figures. Some of Warhol’s political works include the Mao series, Vote McGovern 84, the DNC-commissioned Jimmy Carter portraits, the 1987 Lenin portfolio, and even his Alexander the Great series. In Reigning Queens, Warhol chose to represent women monarchs in an eloquent way, presenting them in a manner that highlights their mystique and powerful femininity,
Warhol wasn’t interested in showing this series in America. In fact, he became angry with George Mulder, a print publisher, for showing the portfolio. Warhol expressed his frustration 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. They were supposed to be only for Europe—nobody here cares about royalty and it’ll be another bad review” (1985).
Even though the subjects in this series are royalty, Warhol presents them as celebrities similar to his other works. Fame, power, and glamour all fascinated Warhol in a similar way. By using bold colors, Warhol effectively delivers his pop-art treatment to a group of royal women. Furthermore, his color blocking places emphasis on the characteristics (such as their elegant jewelry) that evoke the Queens’ powerful opulence and prestige.
Warhol’s use of colorful “patches” in Queen Margrethe II 334 demonstrates a recurring style in the evolution of his design in the 1970s and 1980s. The portrait thus contains some visual elements of collage, which can also be seen in the artist’s Mick Jagger and Ladies and Gentlemen portfolios. Moreover, the patches seem to be intentionally placed to bring our attention to the queen’s jewelry. Meanwhile, her face becomes washed out by the use of light colors for both the background and her skin tone.
In addition to his use of patches, Warhol chooses a bright, fiery red color for her hair. This draws attention to the tidy and perfect nature of Queen Margrethe’s appearance, and ultimately to the crown itself. The crown is the most evident detail in all the portraits of Reigning Queens that separate the women from other celebrities he has printed, as powerful monarchs who rule over nations.
- The first official photograph of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark after her ascension to the throne in 1972. Courtesy of the Hulton and Getty archives.
- Andy Warhol signing an offset lithograph that was issued for the promotion of the print of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Unknown photographer.