My favourite painting by Lucian Freud is this one:
The question I have always asked is, why did the Queen sit for it? It was done in 2001, by which time Freud’s approach to subjects was well known. Surely the Queen knew it would not be flattering. While some critics approved, many hated it (How Lucian Freud’s portrait of the Queen divided critics – UK Telegraph). After it was painted, she did not comment on it.
I have a theory. Of the many paintings done of monarchs, how many pass the test of time? Merely a handful, like this work by van Dyck of Charles I (courtesy of Wikipedia):
I believe the Queen wanted Freud to paint her because he was one of the few great living painters who could do a portrait of her, regardless of how flattering it was. It would be a painting that would last for centuries and it would be discussed and viewed, long after the many millions of images of her were lost. It was a way to establish her image in the way that it would last. It was a way of being associated with something great and long lasting and artistic. That is why I think she sat for Freud.
Lucian Freud died this week. R.I.P.