Queen Elizabeth II is depicted in a fur trimmed blue coat and matching hat, rendered through delicate and thoughtful strokes of paint.

Educated at Downside and the Royal Academy Schools, Michael Noakes developed a naturalistic style which subsequently caught the attention of actors, religious leaders, politicians and members of the royal family. During his career of over sixty years, he became a particularly favoured portrait painter of the establishment. His sitters include the Prince of Wales, the Queen Mother, the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Margaret and the Princess Royal.

The present painting demonstrates the incomparable confidence that the Royal Family found in Noakes’ painterly abilities. Whilst most artists who are offered a life sitting with the Queen have the privilege of sitting with her for the standard hour and a half sitting, Noakes spent more than twenty hours in total with her Majesty, over a number of sittings. During this time, an intimate artistic relationship formed between artist and sitter, placing Noakes in a position whereby he could, more truthfully than most, exhume the complex character of her Majesty and...

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Educated at Downside and the Royal Academy Schools, Michael Noakes developed a naturalistic style which subsequently caught the attention of actors, religious leaders, politicians and members of the royal family. During his career of over sixty years, he became a particularly favoured portrait painter of the establishment. His sitters include the Prince of Wales, the Queen Mother, the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Margaret and the Princess Royal.

The present painting demonstrates the incomparable confidence that the Royal Family found in Noakes’ painterly abilities. Whilst most artists who are offered a life sitting with the Queen have the privilege of sitting with her for the standard hour and a half sitting, Noakes spent more than twenty hours in total with her Majesty, over a number of sittings. During this time, an intimate artistic relationship formed between artist and sitter, placing Noakes in a position whereby he could, more truthfully than most, exhume the complex character of her Majesty and translate it through the medium of paint.

Noakes’ long association with the Royal Family began in 1972 when he was commissioned by the City of London Corporation to paint seven members of the Royal Family and the Lord and Lady Mayoress of London, in six different locations. Commissioned to celebrate the Silver Wedding anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip, the group portrait now hangs in London’s Guildhall Art Gallery. This painting, signed `Michael Noakes’, is a study for the aforementioned portrait and thus marks the first of many of Noakes’ portraits of the Queen and represents the Royal Family’s initial introduction to Noakes’ work, before he made his name as a Royal Portrait Painter.

A further oil study, owned by Prince Charles, made world-wide front-page news when the Royal Family were photographed at the christening of Prince Louis in July 2018, which the Queen herself was unable to attend.[1] The Daily Telegraph reported:


'Given her advancing years and remarkably busy schedule, it was understandable that the Queen, by mutual consent, chose not to attend Prince Louis’s christening. But the 92-year-old monarch poignantly retains a place in an intimate family portrait taken in the Morning Room at Clarence House last week, watching over the next generation of her family.'[2]

Queen Elizabeth II is depicted in a fur trimmed blue coat and matching hat, rendered through delicate and thoughtful strokes of paint. Journalist and friend of Noakes, Patrick Heren, insightfully noted; ‘What set him apart, in my view, was his real interest in the people he portrayed. His engagement can be seen in the light and life in the faces, above all the eyes, of his subjects.’[3] Queen Elizabeth’s eyes indeed hold staggering integrity through her powerful gaze whilst subtly echoing the blue hues dispersed throughout her clothing and the background.

The seminal nature of this life sketch is noteworthy, it having given rise to three notable works – the Guildhall painting, a study in the collection of HRH, Prince of Wales and a painting in the collection of the artist’s estate. It is also a testament to the power of live sittings and the intimate relationship between artist and sitter, in an age of mass ‘celebrity-culture’ consumption. In essence, the present portrait is indicative of what has historically set apart great artists and sustained the genre of portraiture painting; Noakes is an artist who has transcended the iconography and numerous representations of our Queen and instilled his own personal, reflective and distinctive method.

Determination has been a hallmark of Noakes’ work, and his studious work ethic is apparent. During one of his many sittings with the Queen, Noakes recalled growing increasingly irritated with the number of disruptions and interruptions. Finally exasperated beyond a point of containment, a knock at the door prompted Noakes to cry out “What do you want?”. He was answered cautiously by The Prince of Wales, inquiring if it might be possible to speak with the Queen.[4] Noakes was grateful that, in this instance, he may have been accorded more lenience than most others would have been granted.[5]

Luckily, Noakes’ relationship with the Royal Family never faltered, and Prince Charles has since praised the likeness of Noakes’ portrayal of his mother. He later selected the study from his own personal collection to be displayed in a celebration of his 70th birthday in 2018 at Buckingham Palace’s Summer Exhibition. With regards to another of Noakes’ paintings selected for the exhibition, of The Queen Mother, Charles stated: ‘I acquired it from the artist as I felt it brilliantly captured her likeness and, above all, reminds me of the essence of her personality’.[6]

Noakes’ prominence is not confined to the city of London. His international reputation is evidenced repeatedly through his wide range of patrons, but most notably through his position as the only painter to have been given time by Pope Benedict XVI for a portrait commissioned by and for the Vatican.

Noakes’ paintings hang in many important collections such as the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and the House of Commons. A plaque, commemorating both Vivien Noakes and Michael Noakes, was unveiled by Sir David Attenborough on their old home and studio at 146 Hamilton Terrace, St John's Wood, London in November 2011.

[1] P. Heren quotes in V. Ward ‘Queen watches over Prince Louis in official christening portrait - but can you spot Her Majesty?’, The Telegraph, 16th July 2018:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/07/15/queen-watches-prince-louis-official-christening-portrait-can/

[2] P. Heren quotes in V. Ward ‘Queen watches over Prince Louis in official christening portrait - but can you spot Her Majesty?’, The Telegraph, 16th July 2018:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/07/15/queen-watches-prince-louis-official-christening-portrait-can/

[3] P. Heren, ‘The Catholic who painted Thatcher, the Queen and two popes’, Catholic Herald (June 2018).

[4] M. Noakes quoted in M. Stewart, ‘Interview’, Royal Society of Portrait Painters, 2014: https://therp.co.uk/the-late-michael-noakes/

[5] Ibid.

[6] Prince Charles quoted in H. Furness, ‘Prince Charles lends favourite family portraits for birthday exhibition’, The Telegraph, 2nd July 2018: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/07/01/prince-charles-lends-favourite-family-portraits-birthday-exhibition/

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500 Years of British Art