Painted during a life sitting with Queen Elizabeth II, this unusually engaging likeness was produced in preparation for the official group portrait The Royal Family, commissioned to celebrate The Late Queen’s Silver Wedding Anniversary. This portrait therefore marks the beginning of an unprecedented artistic relationship between Noakes and the Royal Family which developed over nearly half a century. During his expansive career, Noakes painted a vast array of sitters, from prime ministers and presidents to actors and authors, however, he is arguably best known for his naturalistic and sensitive portraits of British royals.

The final multi-figured composition included seven members of the Royal Family and the Lord and Lady Mayoress of London and was commissioned by the City of London Corporation to celebrate the Silver Wedding Anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip [fig. 1]. ‘I was thrown in the deep end in 1972,’ Noakes later recalled, ‘when I had to paint seven members of the Royal Family, the Lord...

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Painted during a life sitting with Queen Elizabeth II, this unusually engaging likeness was produced in preparation for the official group portrait The Royal Family, commissioned to celebrate The Late Queen’s Silver Wedding Anniversary. This portrait therefore marks the beginning of an unprecedented artistic relationship between Noakes and the Royal Family which developed over nearly half a century. During his expansive career, Noakes painted a vast array of sitters, from prime ministers and presidents to actors and authors, however, he is arguably best known for his naturalistic and sensitive portraits of British royals.

The final multi-figured composition included seven members of the Royal Family and the Lord and Lady Mayoress of London and was commissioned by the City of London Corporation to celebrate the Silver Wedding Anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip [fig. 1]. ‘I was thrown in the deep end in 1972,’ Noakes later recalled, ‘when I had to paint seven members of the Royal Family, the Lord Mayor and his wife in separate sittings in various locations.’[1] This touching portrait marks one of the very first of many sittings between Noakes and Queen Elizabeth. Whilst most artists who are offered a life sitting with the Queen had the privilege of sitting with her for the standard hour and a half, throughout his career, Noakes spent an unprecedented amount of time with Her Majesty. In 1999 he and his wife, Vivian, accompanied the Queen for an entire year, observing her working life and recording it in words and pictures which culminated in the publication of The Daily Life of The Queen: An Artist's Diary. During this time, an intimate relationship formed between artist and sitter, placing Noakes in a position whereby he could, more truthfully than most, exhume the complex character of his sitter.

Determination was a hallmark of Noakes’ work, and his studious work ethic was noticed by the Royal Family. 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. Noakes was grateful that, in this instance, he may have been accorded more lenience than most others would have been granted.

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] M. Noakes quoted in M. Stewart, ‘The Late Michael Noakes’, Royal Society of Portrait Painters, 2018 [available at; https://therp.co.uk/the-late-michael-noakes/].

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500 Years of British Art