By Natalie Williams
In the wake of the news of Queen Elizabeth II passing away after reigning for 70 years, Andy Warhol’s market has been buzzing with interest from both buyers and sellers of his famous Queen Elizabeth II portrait from Reigning Queens. Two of the QEII prints broke records this month, with one becoming the highest selling Warhol screen print of all time.
Printed at the scale of 39” x 31”, there are 40 standard editions of the Reigning Queens portfolio—a relatively small edition size in comparison to many of the artist’s other series, making the Queens an even more cherishable artifact from Warhol’s oeuvre. There are also 10 artist proofs, 5 printer proofs, 3 hors de commerce, and 30 trial proofs of the portfolio. Additionally, there is a “royal” edition, in which the prints were sprinkled with diamond dust, containing 5 artist proofs, 2 printer proofs, and 2 hors de commerce. Of the Reigning Queens series, The Queen Elizabeth prints have been some of the most sought after Warhols in recent years; and now, after Her Majesty’s passing on September 8th, the popularity of this sacred Warhol print shows no limits.
A brief history of Warhol’s prints
The Queen Elizabeth II print has an interesting inception story and legacy within the royal palace. Warhol’s pop art rendering of the Queen is based on a portrait taken in 1975 by Peter Gurgeon, which was later used to announce the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, celebrating the 25th anniversary of her rule. In 1982 Warhol reached out to the palace to request permission to make a series of portraits of the queen in which the queen’s secretary said “While The Queen would certainly not wish to put any obstacles in Mr. Warhol’s way, she would not dream of offering any comment on this idea.” After receiving this somewhat cryptic message, Warhol continued on and created the Reigning Queens series which showed for the first time at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York City (although Warhol was upset by the fact. He only wanted them shown in Europe, saying that “Americans don’t care about royalty and it’ll be another bad review”).
With Warhol commonly using political figures as the center of his work (some examples being Mao, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Lenin), the portrait of the Queen exemplified the powerful position of her image within mass media. In the series, she is painted with various pastel and bubblegum pinks, purples, blues, and greens, elevating her already iconic likeness into something otherworldly and surreal. The Queen was a symbol of femininity, celebrity, social class, and power, and Warhol created a new version of her likeness that was independent of the monarch’s input and personal branding, only adding to her iconism. After Warhol finished the portraits, Queen Elizabeth’s secretary communicated to him that “Her Majesty was most pleased and interested to see [them].” Unlike some of Warhol’s other work that agitated his subjects, the Royal Collections Trust acquired four of the portraits in 2012. The screen prints were purchased for the Diamond Jubilee, and they are the only portraits within the Royal Gallery that the queen did not personally sit for.
The end of an era marks an increase in value
With news of the Queen’s passing in early September 2022, just months after her Platinum Jubilee, Warhol’s prints are now viewed as one of her most iconic depictions, especially as the chronicling of her image has now come to an end. As with many Warhol portraits, the subject of his work becomes charged with powerful symbolism and a sense of timeless approval. The prints remind us of the significance of the Queen and her rule: her existence as one of the world’s most famous historical figures, one of the most globally recognized persons, and perhaps the most well known multi-generational figure throughout the world. After being the oldest monarch with the longest reign in Britain’s history, her death symbolizes the end of the monarchy as we know it and an entrance into a new era of history.
In regards to the valuation of Warhol’s series, Warhol’s Queen Elizabeth II prints have always stood out as a collector favorite, but the Queen’s endorsement of his work in earlier years increased the popularity and demand for the artworks even more. Now, with the Queen passing away, this series is expected to increase even more. Just over the past two years, between early 2020 and June of 2022, the value of the pink Queen Elizabeth II print has increased by about 180% according to recent sales. As of this past July, a purple Queen Elizabeth II turned heads in the Warhol market when it sold for nearly $500,000, making it the second most valuable Warhol print ever sold at the time (second only to Double Mickey Mouse). This increase in value was only the beginning, as the queen’s passing makes these prints even more historically significant.
This month, the Queen Elizabeth prints broke records in Warhol’s market once again. Between September 8th and September 14th, two Queens of different colors sold for far more than they ever have before. Previously, the purple queen that sold in July became the highest selling print from the series. Now, a blue Queen Elizabeth (catalog number 337) holds not only that title, but the new highest selling Warhol print of all time, selling for a record price of $641,569. This sale marks the first print to break the record since 2019, when Double Mickey Mouse sold for $615,000. But the success of the prints didn’t stop there. Also this month, pink Queen Elizabeth was bought for $612,407, making the pink Queen the 3rd most valuable Warhol print of all time, and the second most valuable from the series.
Considering the numbers above, the value of the blue Queen Elizabeth has increased by approximately 133% between January and September, while the pink Queen has seen an increase in valuation of 153% in just under 5 months. This is likely only the beginning of these returns, as the Queen will continue to go down in history as one of the most important global figures of all time. It goes without saying, that the coverage surrounding the Queen, coupled with the recent revival of appreciation for Warhol has made 2022 an exciting year for Warhol fans and collectors.
Perhaps even more notable, is that between 2021 to 2022, Warhol leaped from being ranked as the eleventh top selling artist to the third spot globally. His renewed and continually growing popularity, coupled with the end of Queen Elizabeth’s 70 year rule, have boosted the mystique of the “Queens” prints and made them especially desirable amongst the changing cultural landscape. In the time leading up to the Queen’s death, her life and image were being reinvigorated in the media through sensationalism surrounding movies, TV shows, and the ever present controversy and media storm surrounding the royal family. With all of the Queen’s media presence, the legacy of the monarchy, and her passing, Warhol’s prints show the superstardom of the queen and the public’s continuing obsession with her generation-defining identity and royal status. As for Andy Warhol’s prints, only time will tell just how far collectors are willing to go.