1997 H M The Queen For the Royal Automobile Club Centenary by Susan Ryder

1997 'Her Majesty 'The Queen' for the Royal Automobile Club by Susan Ryder RP NEAC

In 1997 I was shortlisted to paint a royal for the Royal Automobile Club’s centenary.  I was surprised to have been selected.  The selectors had to ask me if I wanted to know which royal I would be painting – it was one of the most memorable moments of my life.  The RAC wanted the Queen to be painted in a cocktail dress but I pleaded for an informal long evening dress so that the viewer wouldn’t have knees facing them at eye level.

The Queen’s dresser was very helpful on the telephone describing about nine dresses to me, but when I met her at Buckingham Palace she rather crestfallenly said that Her Majesty had whittled it down to two: a dark plum long wool dress and a beautiful pale green dress shot through with gold thread – I was actually pleased to have had the Queen’s involvement in the choice and I felt the plum so dull she must have hoped I would choose the green. Having chosen the dress I was then shown all round Buckingham Palace, in and out of staterooms and bedrooms to chose the chair I wished the Queen to sit on.

The painting was done with six hour-long sittings in the Yellow Drawing Room, which is always offered to artists. I did the painting over six weeks with about a month’s gap in the middle while Nelson Mandela had a state visit. This entailed careful measurement of exactly where I stood, the Queen sat, and my spotlight so that I could return to exactly the same position. I measured out from the walls, counted spots and patterns in the carpet and secretly used my staple gun to put staples in the carpet, hoping they wouldn’t be hoovered up.

I started the painting with the Queen’s dresser very kindly sitting in the chosen chair while I chose a position for it and a pose – I then rubbed in a background tone and a rough outline of the composition.  I was amused when the Queen arrived for her first sitting how very much more uprightly she sat.  I had to revise my composition.

I like painting people in their own settings so the splendid fireplace, ornaments and view in the looking glass down the Mall made a marvellous backdrop for Her Majesty.

She was a wonderful sitter with a fund of fascinating conversation.  I had been warned that it was correct to never start a conversation but was told she would like to be treated like my normal sitters – at the end of the first session I asked if she would like to see how the portrait was progressing.  She was amused to tell me that she had already been watching the progress in the mirror behind me. I was glad I hadn’t known this when I started.

Six hours on my own with Her Majesty was such an honour and something I will never forget.

Susan Ryder RP NEAC

A preparatory sketch and some notes for H M The Queen For the Royal Automobile Club Centenary by Susan Ryder RP NEAC



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