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Peter Greenham RA, Study for a Portrait of Her Majesty The Queen

Study for a Portrait of Her Majesty The Queen, 1964

Peter Greenham RA (1909 - 1992)

RA Collection: Art

Described as causing 'trouble' amounting to a 'Royal Controversy' upon its first exhibition in 1965, Peter Greenham's Study for a Portrait of Her Majesty The Queen has always divided critics. The work was painted in 1964 and relates to a double portrait of The Queen and Prince Philip that the Welsh Guards commissioned in 1962.

In this portrait, The Queen wears a pale green ball gown with white opera gloves and a white diaphanous shawl. Over her left shoulder she wears a blue sash, called the Garter Riband, which has pinned to it the Royal Family Orders of her grandfather, George V, and father, George VI. On her head she wears what is most likely the Kokoshnik Tiara, made up of 61 platinum bars and encrusted with 488 diamonds, which was presented to Princess Alexandra, Princess of Wales, upon her Silver Wedding Anniversary in 1888 by Lady Salisbury on behalf of 365 peeresses.

The tiara and sash, however, are the only attributes that mark out the figure's royal status. She does not sit on a throne and she is not positioned in regal surroundings, but rather with an indistinct backdrop. The scale of the painting, on the other hand, which stands at two and a half metres high is in keeping with other full length royal portraits.

The painting was not shown again until the National Portrait Gallery staged its exhibition Elizabeth II: Portraits of Sixty Years in 1986. The critic Peter Watson writing in The Observer described it as portraying The Queen as 'insecure, sad, ambivalent and melancholy' and wondered whether it showed that she 'had some worry, which was kept from the public'. The curator of the exhibition, Malcolm Rogers, saw this sense of uncertainty as positive, making the portrait all the more fascinating. He described it as 'An impression rather than a strict portrait, which in its fragile atmosphere and shy characterization recalls the ambivalence of Goya's royal portraits'.

The painter of the portrait, Peter Greenham, was born in London in 1909. He studied English at Magdalen College, Oxford and after graduating in 1931 became a schoolmaster. Aged 26 he enrolled at the Byam Shaw School of Drawing and Painting, then run by F. Ernest Jackson, who was to greatly influence his work and teaching methods.

Although he painted landscapes and beach scenes, Greenham is best known as a portrait painter. He typically finished his landscapes in one session but his portraits would require an average of ten to twelve sessions of a few hours each. Some of his portraits were painted over several years.

Greenham first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1934 and regularly from 1941. He was elected an Associate Royal Academician in 1951 and a Royal Academician in 1960. As Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools (1964-85) he stressed to his students the importance of life drawing as a foundation for painting and sculpture.

As well as being very active at the Royal Academy, Greenham was a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and was its president from 1974 to 1982; he was also a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the New English Art Club. The author of many articles on art, Greenham published only one book, Velasquez, in 1969; the influence of the great Spanish portrait painter can be seen in this painting. Greenham was appointed CBE in 1978. He died in 1992.

Object details

Study for a Portrait of Her Majesty The Queen
Peter Greenham RA (1909 - 1992)
Object type
Copyright owner
Oil on canvas

2445 mm x 1224 mm x 50 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Purchased from Jane Dowling in 2000
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