Queen Ntombi Twala 348 by Andy Warhol is a screenprint from the iconic Reigning Queens collection from 1985. The collection represents four queens who ruled at the time including Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, and Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland. Warhol’s art was often inspired by women. He created many pop art portraits of famous women personalities including Marylin Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, and Dolly Parton. These portraits reflect Warhol’s fascination with pop culture and his interest in femininity.
Warhol used his signature silkscreen technique to create the Reigning Queens images. He incorporates blocks of contrasting colors like green and light blue to create a collage-like effect. There are four prints of each four queens, comprising Warhol’s largest portfolio of 16 prints (though it has a small edition size). By using the official state portrait of the Queens for the bases of his prints, Warhol appears to allude further to the concept of mass production and repetition, present in both his method and the content of his artwork. State images like these are often found on currency, stamps, and seals, all of which contribute to the repetitive nature of things in modern society. Using the silkscreen technique, Warhol could easily embody this.
Warhol’s inclination towards pop art came from artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Warhol often used expressive bold colors, allowing him to transform ordinary portraits into lively prints. The contrasting shades of blue in this piece highlight the queen’s facial features and jewelry, emphasizing her opulence and power. Warhol’s use of vibrant colors catches the viewer’s attention, and allows one to reimagine a previously produced portrait or object.
When this series debuted in the 80s, all the queens were in power at the time, although Queen Ntombi was queen regent. This time period was arguably Warhol’s most prolific and financially successful period. However, he received much criticism for being seen as a “business artist.” During this time, many critics were scolding Warhol’s exhibitions of famous celebrity personalities. They accused his work of being superficial, holding no depth or significance. However, these critics brought more attention to his art, and the controversy allowed Warhol’s work to gain popularity.
Moreover, Warhol’s art was much different from the dominant style. Abstract expressionism, which focused on emotional depth, was popular at the time, while pop art concentrated on recreating everyday items and images. Warhol’s pop art was repetitive, and filled with romanticizations of the mundane. Warhol successfully executed this style by staying true to his bold individuality. Ultimately, his work altered common perceptions of artistic merit and what could “count” as art.
The Reigning Queens collection is still significant today as three of the four queens are still in power. Warhol boldly depicts the state images of these queens using contrasting colors in each print. Warhol adds visual detailing by emphasizing Twala’s necklace in pink and purple, drawing the viewer’s attention to the queen’s jewelry and power. In addition, the bright yellow background causes her blue skin tone to stand out to the viewer. Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland 348 is an iconic piece of Warhol’s catalogue, and depicts his signature pop-art sensibility at the height of his career.