Inside was a van Dyck self-portrait worth £12.5 million but the 150 people queuing outside Philip Mould’s art gallery in Mayfair last Saturday had come to see an exhibition of 28 portraits of the Queen, painted by children, as part of the Portrait of Our Queen competition.
The small, red-framed portraits were the winning entries in the nationwide competition which had invited children aged 4 to 18 to depict the Queen in celebration of her Diamond Jubilee. I was one of the competition’s founders and chairmen with Councillor Clare Head, Anthony Bailey OBE and film producer and actress Alexa Jago, who spearheaded Caring for Courage. We were able to mount the competition thanks to a donation from Willem, Baron von Dedem, chairman of the Maastricht Art Fair, and his wife Ronny, an artist.
Philip Mould, the well-known television art sleuth, is also one of London’s most celebrated portrait dealers. He delighted in hanging the children’s portraits alongside a selection of Royal portraits, including George III and Charles II, and was amused to find the children undaunted by their work being up for comparison with his Old Masters.
‘What’s so illuminating is seeing how confident the children feel in being themselves and to them the Queen is anything from a grandmother to a goddess,’ said Mould (pictured left). ‘Children are liberated from the restraints that painters of Royalty are usually confined by.’
Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures and one of the competition judges (pictured bottom), also commented on how differently the children perceived their monarch from historical painters and described some of their more abstract renderings as ‘delightful expressive mess’.
The five judges, who included Nicky Philipps, who has painted Princes William and Harry, chose as their overall winner a delicate drawing by eight-year-old Alannah McMahon from Surrey, which portrayed the Queen as a fragile but rather stern granny (pictured below).
Watching children collect their certificates from Councillor Rita Palmer, the Mayor of Richmond, Alannah’s art teacher, Helen McNiven, said, ‘Children paint so freely and thoughtlessly but seeing their art hanging in this gallery has given what they do a context and validity.’
30,000 children took part in our competition and our aim was to encourage them away from screens and electronic devices and back to the traditional skills required by using paper, pencils and paint.
As a prize, organised and donated by John Hall Venice, the renowned gap year course, the 28 winners are going on a tour of London’s top portrait galleries in the spring.
Our reward, after a year of hard work, was the enthusiastic response from parents, teachers and children alike and from the public who voted for their favourite painting, a Warhol-like rendering of Her Majesty by Chloe Everett.
Her painting, Alannah’s and the Chairmen’s Choice, a spooky oil reminiscent of Lucien Freud by Lucas Console-Verma, will decorate a Prestat chocolate bar wrapper next year to mark the anniversary of the Coronation.
Though it’s perhaps too early to spot the next van Dyck among our entries, Mould commented, ‘Gainsborough was painting his first portraits at twelve or fourteen and it’s heartening to see figurative painting here that’s comparable to those early efforts.’
The competition will run annually from 2013.
Pictured below: Emily Pilling’s winning portarit in the Year Six category