Andy Warhol’s Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland 347 depicts one of the four Queens included in the artist’s Reigning Queens series. This series debuted two years before Warhol’s death in 1985, and is one of his largest portfolios. He depicts the state images of the queens while adding myriads of color to each print. Notably, these state portraits appear often on stamps and currency, which reflects Warhol’s obsession for mass-production and repetition.
Warhol created four prints of four contemporary queens for a total of 16 portraits. 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. This print in particular uses low contrast colors in the background to put more emphasis on Warhol’s subject. As the only queen of color, Queen Ntombi Twala is an important addition to the series. Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland 347 is the only portrait of her where Warhol chose greatly emphasize her skin tone.
Like many of his other works, Warhol created Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland with the silkcreen technique. Silk screening allows ink to pass through a porous fabric creating bold colors one layer at a time. This technique heavily influenced the growing popularity of the pop art movement in the 50s and 60s. Silkscreening and screen printing allowed Warhol to create a large number of repetitive images, each with their own unique colors.
In addition, Warhol added outlined detailing to the portrait, emphasizing the queen’s specific features. Her crown and necklace are outlined in red which continue over her shoulder where we see a green abstract block. Warhol used these abstract shapes all throughout Reigning Queens as well as in his stunning Mick Jagger portfolio. At the bottom of the portrait, pattern-like detailing allows the eyes to rest after naturally observing the piece from top to bottom.
Warhol had been transforming ordinary portraits into colorful contrasting art for decades before this series. He was known for mass-producing celebrity prints prior, from Marilyn Monroe to Karen Kain and many more. Politics and power also fascinated Warhol, which becomes evident in Reigning Queens and similar works. His pop art includes the likes of John. F Kennedy, Vladimir Lenin, and even Alexander the Great. However, this was Warhol’s first take on royalty.
This series represents female authority and empowerment, which Warhol found beautiful. He depicts the queens as individuals in their own right, not women who married into royalty. The Reigning Queen’s collection still holds its significance today as three of the four queens are still in power. Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland 347 is Warhol at his most elegant, and remains as one of his most cherished pieces.