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.
Reigning Queens is not Warhol’s first series of political figures. Warhol’s other political works include the Mao series, Vote McGovern 84, the DNC-commissioned Jimmy Carter portraits, the 1987 Lenin portfolio, and his Alexander the Great series. In this series, Warhol chose to represent women monarchs in an eloquent way. He focuses on their mystique and femininity, instead of the intimidating and serious portraits used in his other political portfolios.
Warhol wanted to capture the queens as individuals in their own right, as opposed to women that simply married a king. Warhol’s interest in political figures is apparent through much of his work. Later he released Reigning Queens (Royal Edition) which used diamond dust to further emphasize the elegance of the queens.
Surprisingly, Warhol did not want this series to be shown in America. In fact, he became infuriated 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”. Written in 1985.
In true Warhol fashion, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark uses bold colors to instantly catch one’s attention. But unlike his other political portraits, he doesn’t use those colors to portray the Queen in a menacing way. Instead he uses them to bring attention to the areas of the portrait that emphasize the eloquence of the Queen.
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, he emphasizes the characteristics that remind us that these are not celebrities, but powerful monarchs who rule over nations.
Warhol’s use of colorful patches in Queen Margrethe II 334 demonstrates a break from his usual technique. The portrait thus contains some elements of collage, which Warhol also experimented with in his Mick Jagger portfolio. These patches add an interesting flair to the series, making these portraits slightly different from his usual manipulations of celebrities and politicians. Moreover, the patches are strategically 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. By using vibrant colors against the brown clothing, Warhol ensures that the viewer focuses on the jewelry instead of the queen herself, reminding us that she isn’t just a celebrity, but a royal figure.
In addition to his use of patches, Warhol chooses a bright, fiery red color for her hair. The choice of bright color draws attention to the perfectly styled hair, and ultimately to the crown itself. The crown is the most evident detail in all the portraits of Reigning Queens that show that these are not celebrities, but powerful monarchs who rule over nations.