Peter Kennard, Maggie Regina, 1983
However one feels about Margaret Thatcher – and regular readers may by now suspect I’m not a fan – the ceremonial funeral seems like a contentious decision at the very least. Add to that the fact that it’s been discussed in the media as following the model of the funerals of Daina, Princess of Wales and the Queen Mother and it becomes easy to see Thatcher as receiving the royal status she seemed to award her self when she announced “we have become a grandmother.” Which, to my mind at least, makes this a good day to write about Maggie Regina, Peter Kennard’s 1983 depiction of Margaret Thatcher as Queen Victoria.
Based on an 1883 painting of Queen Victoria, Britain’s longest serving monarch (though Elizabeth II looks set to usurp that position in a couple of years from now), Kennard’s montage is a simple transposition of Thatcher’s head onto Victoria’s body.
At its simplest, this talks of the grandeur of a Prime Minister who made much of her supposed humble origins – she was, after all, only a grocer’s daughter – though she could also be thought of as the Cambridge-educated daughter of a successful businessman. Looking at the work again this week though, with Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead high in the charts, I’m struck by something else. Kennard has used a portrait of Maggie taken at a subtly different angle to the one of Victoria in the painting, and it’s one that defies the convention that the face should not be turned away from the camera to the extent of allowing the nose to disrupt the line of the cheek. In using a picture of Thatcher where that is the case, Kennard’s Maggie Regina arguably appears slightly more pointy-nosed – and so slightly more witch-like – than she otherwise would.
There is a sternness to the portrait of Thatcher that Kennard has used, and it’s not just down to the pointy nose. Her features are sharp: her chin juts, her lips are pursed and her eyes stare. Interestingly, the 1883 painting was itself based on another work: the 1882 photograph of Queen Victoria taken by Alexander Bassano. And a quick look at that confirms that Kennard’s montage actually draws closely on the original photograph in terms of the angle of the head.
Alexander Bassano, photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882