Pictures of the Coronation
In 2012, the year of the Diamond Jubilee marking Queen Elizabeth II's 60-year reign, it seems fitting that we revisit pictures in the Government Art Collection (GAC) that provide a visual record of the Queen's Coronation Day. 'It rained, but this didn't stop us having our street parties,' sums up the general mood on Tuesday 2 June 1953, when 8,000 guests were invited to Westminster Abbey (each squeezed into 18 inches of seating) while three million people lined the procession route. As part of the celebrations, over 100 works of art were commissioned or purchased by the GAC's predecessor the Ministry of Works from early 1953 to 1954 – many of which are by well-known British artists.
It seems that getting up at the crack of dawn to queue for a big event is not just a contemporary phenomenon. The Porch at No. 9 Carlton House Terrace, 5.30am (image 1) is a charcoal drawing by Laura Knight in which a small group are shown huddled together in blankets on the pavement in anticipation of getting a good view of the procession. Knight was created a dame in 1929; she was renowned particularly for her landscape and figure subjects, especially of scenes from the ballet, circus, music hall and theatre.
On Coronation Day L.S. Lowry was perched in the stands outside Buckingham Palace with a ringside view. Aged 66, Lowry had only recently retired from his job as a rent collector and was starting to gain some recognition for his work. However Lowry admitted in a letter to a friend that despite having supposed to have been there at 6am, he was late and he 'didn't make any drawings at the time but went back the next morning and did a few, but, as I say, what I am going to paint I don't yet know, but it will sort itself out'. His oil painting The Procession passing the Queen Victoria Memorial (image 2) is a characteristic Lowry with its distinctive elongated figures and eye for detail.
Taking a very high vantage point in Admiralty Arch, Leonard Rosoman's The Procession in the Mall, from Admiralty Arch (image 3) looks down on the convoy as it makes its way up the Mall from Buckingham Palace, towards Westminster Abbey. In this semi-abstract view, a series of tiny black dots and smudges represent the crowds gathered to witness the procession. The thin layers of wash and the non-naturalistic colour help to create a particular atmosphere and sensibility in which the distant parade and the grand buildings adorned with flags appear as if from behind a veil.
In Parliament Square (image 4), a bird's-eye view of the event is provided by Julian Trevelyan who uses fluttering flags and heightened colour to create a sense of celebration. A tree with bright yellowy orange foliage lights up the centre of the composition and the sky is pink and rosy in cheerful contrast to many of the overcast skies in paintings by other Coronation artists.
You can almost feel the cold, hard metallic surfaces of the Gold State Coach and the statue of Charles 1 on horseback in Richard Eurich's naturalistic painting Coronation Procession: Admiralty Arch from Trafalgar Square (image 5). Used to carry the Queen to the ceremony in Westminster Abbey, the Gold Coach was made in 1760, and was pronounced to be extremely uncomfortable by Queen Victoria, who complained of its 'distressing oscillations'! To many in this austere period of post war Britain, this glittering, gilded carriage moving along London's streets, represented both real life glamour and fairy tale spectacle.
Known mainly for his graphic design work, Edward Bawden combines bold line and areas of bright colour to great effect. Troops in the Mall (image 6) is a characteristically stylised Bawden work in which the serried ranks of red jacketed guards, dramatic circular swathe of spectators and dark canopy of trees combine to emphasise the pattern and pageantry of the occasion.
Edwin La Dell's The Crowd in the Mall (image 7) is, however, perhaps closer to reality, showing stair rods of rain descending on people as they shelter under their umbrellas. Onlookers who were lucky enough to have places on the stands around the Palace also patiently endured the rain. In Waiting on the Stands (image 8), one of three commissioned drawings by Edward Ardizzone, a man revives himself with a tot of whisky, while those beside him shiver in top hats and furs.
After the Ceremony (image 9), a lively drawing in pen and ink, watercolour and chalk on paper, is one from a series of loose gestural works that Feliks Topolski made on the spot in response to the pomp and ceremony unfolding before of his eyes. Topolski worked as a caricaturist and illustrator, as well as a painter. Much of his work was concerned with chronicling the twentieth century's most significant people and associated historical events. Only the guests lucky enough to get seats inside the Abbey witnessed the service first-hand, although millions watched the grainy black and white pictures on television worldwide. For many British people this was the first time they actually watched television.
Meanwhile, around the country, people decked their streets with bunting and flags. Richard Platt's painting, Coronation Decoration, Calverley Grove N19 (image 10), a snapshot of an Islington street, appears rather like a stage set – eerily empty yet decorated in anticipation of what is to come.
Appropriately, Coronation Day ended with a bang with a pyrotechnical display over the Thames. Coronation Fireworks (image 11) by Frederick Gore with its suitably loose brushstrokes and deep velvety textures, captures the burst of colour in the night sky as well as pinkish reflections on the water and on the buildings.