In the spring of 2012, artist Ralph Heimans stood on the intricately tiled floor of Westminster Abbey and waited for the person he would portray in his latest commission: Queen Elizabeth II. When he approached it was an extraordinary moment.
“He was wearing his mantle of state, with four attendants holding him up, as he walked down the long corridor, it was quite a theatrical entrance,” Heimans said shortly after learning of the queen’s death, who died Thursday at the age of 96.
After spending an hour with the queen, “talking niceties,” he had a “feeling of how kind she was, almost a shy feeling, an introspective quality.” In the oil painting of her, on display at Westminster, he portrayed her as a solitary figure, even taciturn, with her eyes looking down, and the vastness of Westminster behind her, like the weight of the past and the present.
“I wanted to show her in that private moment, with a certain gravitas about her,” he said.
Over the past 70 years, authors, filmmakers, playwrights, composers and painters have responded to the queen as a symbol and as a human being, whether by commenting on her privileged position or attempting to sketch a woman’s private life. that he rarely spoke in public and avoided making personal revelations. The dual qualities of majesty and mystery placed her imaginatively in the most diverse places, from understated royal art to punk and a variety of film and television characterizations.
“I think because she was a constant presence that didn’t say much, that allowed people to project themselves on her in different ways,” said Elizabeth Holmes, whose book on royal style “HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style” was published in 2020. “Also, you can make it very easy for people to look like the queen. You can take it as a starting point and go with it.”
On film, the queen has been fictionalized in everything from the Oscar-winning portrayal of Helen Mirren in “The Queen” to the farce films “Naked Gun” and the grim “ Spencer” by Chilean director Pablo Larraín, with Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana and Stella Gonet as Isabel. Where she has been most fully dramatized has been in Netflix’s Emmy-award winning series “The Crown,” which follows her private life from the beginning of her reign to the most recent time, with production going on hiatus Friday as show of respect after his death.
When portrayed by Claire Foy as a glamorous young monarch, she can be seen finding her way in her new life, trying to maintain a happy relationship with her husband, Prince Philip, while also performing her royal duties with the sobriety of an older person.
Olivia Colman continued the role of Elizabeth, who over time becomes more mature and hirsute, also with flaws, such as when she does not initially travel to the site of a mining tragedy in Wales to comfort the local population or when she has little empathy for the problems. of Diana with her son Carlos.
“I externalize my feelings. The queen isn’t supposed to do that,” Colman told Vanity Fair in 2018. “She had to be a rock to everyone and she’s been trained not to (express her feelings).”
The queen didn’t comment on works about her, nor did she seem always aware of cultural trends: Greeting Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page at a palace reception in 2005, she seemed unsure who he was and what instrument did he play
But she had a sense of her own place in the world and had the knack of appearing with Daniel Craig as James Bond for a video from the 2012 Olympics, as well as enough good humor to allow herself to be portrayed as jumping. parachuted from a helicopter with him.
Fiction authors enjoyed taking the queen on unexpected adventures. In Emma Tennant’s “The Autobiography of the Queen,” the monarch travels to St. Lucia in the Caribbean. SJ Bennett worked from the premise of “what if the queen solved crimes?” in the mystery novels “The Windsor Knot” and “A Three Dog Problem.”
“She had such a unique perspective on the world. She was always looking out when everyone else was looking back at her, so she must see a lot of things that we don’t see,” Bennett, the daughter of an army veteran who knew the queen, told The Associated Press.
“His character was what fascinated me, not his position as a symbol,” he added. “She was smart, often underestimated because she didn’t receive a traditional upbringing, and endlessly curious about people. In her books I have her looking animatedly from the windows of Buckingham Palace as she is portrayed in painting, to find out what is going on outside of her, because that is what she was really doing. She had a very wry sense of humor and an enormous instinct for fun, but equally an almost supernatural instinct for diplomacy, and a world-class sense of duty.”
Musicians have paid tribute to her, they have condemned her and also mentioned her name to make her laugh.
For punk and New Wave artists, she was a monument to be torn down. “The Queen Is Dead” by The Smiths mocks the royal family and the succession of power: “I say, Charles, don’t you ever crave/To appear on the front of the Daily Mail/Dressed in your Mother’s bridal veil ?” (Carlos, do you ever feel like appearing on the front page of the Daily Mail/Dressed in your mother’s wedding veil?). The Sex Pistols helped define the punk movement in 1976 with “God Save the Queen,” in which Johnny Rotten (now Lydon) says “there’s no future” by roaring out some of the most scathing, nihilistic lyrics to ever hit the charts. of British popularity:
“God save the queen/The fascist regime/They made you a moron/A potential H bomb/God save the queen/She’s not a human being…” /A potential atomic bomb/God save the queen/She’s not human).
Instead, other composers responded with affection. Duke Ellington met her in the late 1950s and found her “so inspiring” that she soon collaborated with Billy Strayhorn on “The Queen’s Suite,” for which he had a gold record made especially for her. In the late 1960s, Paul McCartney made the 23-second acoustic “Her Majesty,” complete with his cheeky refrain: “Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl/But she doesn’t have a lot to say.” Pretty nice girl/But she doesn’t have much to say) and the Beatles included it at the end of “Abbey Road”.
As he explained in “Paul McCartney: The Lyrics,” released in 2021, he wrote the song in part because the queen didn’t really make many public statements, beyond her annual Christmas address or State Opening of Parliament. McCartney met the queen on multiple occasions, as a Beatle and as a solo artist, and even played her a song. But he reaffirmed in his book: “I didn’t have much to say.”