When Jenkins first visited Stourwater in the late 1920s, a portrait by Hans Holbein, famous for his portrait of King Henry VIII, hung in the long gallery. Now, when Jenkins returns to Stourwater for his nephew’s wedding in early 1971, he leaves the reception for a nostalgic wander around the castle. The tapestries of the seven deadly sins are gone and over the “fine chimneypiece, decorated with nymphs and satyrs – no doubt installed by Sir Magnus to harmonize with the tapestries” (HSH 191 ) is a copy of a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Annigoni.
Pietro Annigoni (Italian,1910-1988) already had a successful career when he was commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers to paint the Queen’s portrait in 1955. The idealized portrait of the young monarch was immensely popular. When it was displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in London the crowds were ten deep. The National Portrait Gallery commissioned Annigoni to do another portrait of the Queen Elizabeth in 1969.
After his 1955 portrait of Elizabeth, Annigoni was much in demand as a painter of the powerful — the Shah of Iran, Pope John XXIII, Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson; however, Annigoni was not always in agreement with the establishment. In 1970 he turned to graffiti, writings MURDERERS on the front of the National Gallery, to protest practices of painting restoration that he viewed as desecration.
We have not been able to find a facsimile of the chimneypiece, even though an apparently similar one was sold at auction by Christies in 1905. There are many portraits of Elizabeth that the new owners of Stourwater might have chosen to display over that mantel. We do not know if they chose the 1955 Annigoni, a thoughtful young monarch in a sylvan setting, or the 1969 version, gloomier and less popular. We would have preferred the lively Elizabeth of Gerhard Richter (1969). (The intense Elizabeth of Lucien Freud (2001) had not yet been painted.) In 1971, the satyrs and nymphs were still by the fireplace, but the sexual energy that Sir Magnus had brought to Stourwater was gone; the extravagant art was replaced with a reproduction, bland and official.