Ten years ago I still had my mother and my godmother, who was also my aunt. Five years ago I still had my godmother. Now I am mother to three of my own very grown-up children and Mothering Sunday is still an extremely significant day for me.
This picture of the queen is one of the most special portraits of my mother that there could be. She looks like the queen. As far as the palace is concerned, this portrait is of the Queen. But my family knows better.
In early 1953 when my mother was pregnant with me, and my father was still a struggling student, they met an up and coming young Hungarian artist at a party- Arthur Pan. Apparently he, after taking one look at my mother, declared that she looks just like the Princess Elizabeth and he must paint her. My mother and father always said they were very bemused by this but they agreed. For the price of 6 dinners (for my father- who came to every sitting) my mother sat for her portrait. Arthur Pan painted only her face and her hands. He painted in the coronation robes from photographs immediately after the coronation itself. The portrait then was presented to the palace and the Queen accepted it as an official portrait. Photos of it were published in one of the illustrated papers of the time but I can’t find which one and no one in the family could remember. The portrait was then sent to the High Commission in Malaya where it hung until independence. It came back to England in 1964.
Andrzej spent a lot of time trying to trace its whereabouts and found that it now hangs in Kingston Court as a symbol of the Royal Charter of Kingston. He and I went to look at it a few years ago and discovered it is very large very gaudy and really quite ugly. No-one can tell that it’s not actually the Queen unless you look at the hands which are quite different from hers. (My mother had beautiful hands!)
We tried to tell the man who is guarding the picture the story but he wasn’t very interested, unfortunately!
Years ago my father had photocopies made of the double-page centrefold spread of the picture in the illustrated paper but he never kept a copy of the actual magazine. I have been trying to find it for the last 20 years but with no success. Andrzej and I even went to the newspaper library in Colindale and found lots of fascinating things, but not this. I now have copies of the Illustrated London News and Picture Post of about the time of the coronation but not the one with this particular portrait.
If anyone has any picture magazines from 1953 please would you have a look and see if this picture is inside.
Let me know the date because without that I can’t begin to try to find it.
Happy Mother’s Day.