Sunday, October 1, 2023
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Buckingham Palace Shares an Extremely Rare Portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Cecil Beaton

On September 8, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II—the longest-reigning monarch in the history of the United Kingdom—died at the age of 96. It was one of the 21st century’s most memorable moments: the news flashed across television chyrons and blared on radio stations across the world. Condolences from global leaders like Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau flooded in. The United Kingdom entered a 10-day period of solemn mourning, while outside Westminster Abbey, people queued for up to 24 hours to pay their respects. And, for the first time in most of our lifetimes, a king ascended to the British throne.

A year to the day, Buckingham Palace is memorializing the momentous occasion by releasing a never-before-seen portrait of the late Queen, originally taken in October 1968 by Cecil Beaton. “In marking the first anniversary of Her late Majesty’s death and my Accession, we recall with great affection her long life, devoted service, and all she meant to so many of us,” her son King Charles said in a statement. “I am deeply grateful, too, for the love and support that has been shown to my wife and myself during this year as we do our utmost to be of service to you all.”

In it, the 42-year-old Queen Elizabeth wears full royal regalia, including a velvet cape and the Vladimir Tiara. (The distinct diadem features intersecting circles set with brilliant diamonds and claw-set pendant pearls.) She gives the camera—and Beaton—a small, reserved smile.

The image was first displayed briefly in an exhibition of Beaton’s portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in November 1968. (At the time, it was the first retrospective of a living photographer in a British Museum.) When the show ended in March 1969, the photo went back in the archives—and has never been shown again until now.

The photo also bears a significant cultural impact: Beaton was the foremost chronicler of the British royal family, capturing the Windsors from the 1930s through the 1970s. He first captured the then-Queen Elizabeth in 1942 for her 16th birthday. (“The youthful princess I photographed that day has now become a Queen of remarkable qualities. Her unique legacy has made her a person apart, and the training to play the role of sovereign is today evident in the increasing authority of her personality,” Beaton wrote in a 1953 essay for British Vogue.) Their last sitting? 1968—or, the very photo Buckingham Palace released today.



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