Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Queen at Breakfast

I saw this rather lovely painting of The Queen by her husband Prince Phillip a few months ago and have been thinking about it on and off since. It's a surprisingly good painting isn't it? I mean, WHO KNEW? The informality is very charming, and the style in no way showy, it's a terribly modern sort of portrait and very unexpecte. It's very unusual to have the monarch eating toast somewhere in the background, not even looking at the viewer. I wonder if the dear old D.of.E made more, or if this was just a one-off? I hope not.

The Queen is very young in this picture, I imagine there is a whole history of images from the interior of her life, running parallel to the images we see of the exterior of her life. She hasn't spent the best part of a century simply shaking hands with diplomats and waving at crowds in floral dresses. (Which prompts another question how did a woman so chic in the 50s become so, not so? How quickly does one descend into the cheerful hell of pastels?) Rather she has lived a life of nudity, fireplaces, emotional outbursts, child birth, heartache, excitement, illicit moments, unthinkable privilege and soft, even intimacy. If the Duke of Edinburgh has captured any of this, anything of the woman behind the throne it will be a hundred times more interesting than any amount of official portraits; those images that forever tell only one thing "This is the Queen."

I'm put in mind of Hemmingway and Dietrich's great, unconsummated, love affair and the letters they wrote to each other until the writer's suicide. They tell a very different story from that which we know. Hemmingway is revealed not as the alcoholic womanizer of popular mythology, but as a deeply depressed and very shy man who confesses to Dietrich that his sexual encounters have in fact been few. Dietrich meanwhile is shown to be more capable of romantic feelings, and considerably less megalomaniacal than would be believed. She called him "Papa" and he called her "My Little Kraut" - cute, right? Sort of.

Their love affair (partially due to it's unrequitedness) is amongst my favourite love stories, up there with Marlon Brando putting his cigarettes out on James Dean. Yet, I love to daydream about how Marlene and Ernest may have brought things to fruition, he femme butch, she butch femme, at it in the Imperialé suite at the Ritz. An alcohol fueled flight into self-destruction, the incomparable narcissism, bottles smashed and tears wept, panic, lust, cigarette smoke, and then, curtains. She would leave him bruised and hungover, a plane to catch a commitment on some other continent, and he wouldn't have the words to say goodbye. She would write to him often and think about him oftener, and he would nurse his wounds, she would send him trinkets and he would keep them in his pocket as he walked out into his garden in Idaho, shotgun in hand.

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