An Audience with the Queen

by HRM on March 27, 2013

by Mia Funk
An Audience with the Queen by Mia Funk

An Audience with the Queen by Mia Funk, oil on canvas 110 x 143.2 cm winner of the Thames and Hudson Pictureworks Prize 2010

Do you like Goya? was the first thing the Famous Painter asked. Well I knew where he was going with that one. After all, he was famous for more than just being a painter – 30 illegitimate children, or was it 29…? Memory isn’t what it used to be. I’d read his file, but that was months ago, before they vetted him and judged him to fit to paint the Royal likeness, whatever that means. It’s just a face, my face – but the way the Privy Council talk about it makes it sound distant, disembodied. The Famous Artist, they say, is very good at painting flesh, that’s his specialty so to speak. Especially fat ones, wonder then what he’ll make of this scrawny old bird with bad knees.

16 May 20–
I am at your Majesty’s pleasure, was the second thing that came out of said Famous Artist’s mouth, delivered with a sly look. I’d never understood that phrase. It gives me no pleasure to incarcerate a man indefinitely.

No, I’m at yours, I thought, though I didn’t dare say it. From what I understand – for I’d been warned – sitting for the Famous Painter is something of a sentence with no chance of parole. You begin your sentence, never being told how long it will take or what eventual form your portrait will be. Will you be naked or will you be clothed? Will you be stripped of all dignity, lying on a hardboard floor clutching a filthy whippet, or be forced to wear the same dirty dress for the 600 days it takes him to finish the portrait? People have grown old posing for him, have gotten pregnant and seen the pregnancy to term, been married and divorced before he finished with them. It’s all a bit of a crap shoot, so we took no chances. He’s a fixed number of hours and if he can’t capture the Royal likeness before his time’s up time, that’s his fault.

He is rumoured to be something of a perfectionist – and yes, that’s what he’s known for too, a seducer, or so I’m told. But honestly I don’t see it, the way he dresses, it’s practically rags, you should see him in his smock, spattered with paint, he looks like a butcher, and his house, it must be years since it’s seen a mop.

11 June 20–
And yes, I do like Goya. But he doesn’t mean The Disasters of War, or The Third of May. He means that naughty little diptych at the Prado, or rather, particularly, the second part. The Naked Maja reclining on a bed of pillows. Well, he would like that, wouldn’t he. Maja, rumoured to be the 13th Duchess of Alba, with whom Goya, who apparently had a bit of a reputation himself, is supposed to have been romantically involved…

26 July 20–
I’m beginning to think this was a mistake. The man is obsessed. He can’t take his eyes off me. At first I thought it was my face, until I realised it’s the crown he’s interested in. All the facets fascinate him. Such a symbol of power. Finally, fed up, I removed it and said that perhaps, if he needed more time to study it that a female staff courtier place it on her head and fill in for me. I think it’s the first time one of his sitters have stood up for themselves. He doesn’t like it one bit, and I have a feeling I’m going to regret it.

20 August 20–
It seems awfully disrespectful. While he’s at work on my portrait, he has another canvas of identical size set up on a nearby easel, which he works on simultaneously. He says he’s just sketching out an idea (nothing to do with me) while the paint dries on mine. It’s very disconcerting for him to divide his time that way when I have given him my complete attention. What’s more, the way he has this easel set up, at an angle skewed into a corner doesn’t permit me a view of it. He says it’s just an idea I have, shooting me another me another of his sly looks. I shoot him sly look right back and he says, “perfect, that’s perfect!” and immediately begins sketching me at great speed.

All very mysterious.

5 October 20–
I’d been attending to royal functions all morning and my feet are paining me, so quietly, hoping no one would notice I briefly slipped off one shoe and rubbed it against the back of my calf. Such relief. I thought the artist was busy mixing paint and didn’t see, but when I looked up there he was with his sketchbook–the conniving magpie. I quickly slipped my stockinged foot back into its leather vice, bearing my discomfort in silence.

At three we pause for afternoon tea. Old Eagle Eye sips it with me, but doesn’t eat cake, and all the time I can tell he is working, recording everything, every last gesture and detail. It’s all rather uncomfortable, really. Quite.

7 November 20–
He’s doing it for free which makes it very hard to complain. I suppose he’s entitled his full artistic freedom, but it seems unfair that he should be allowed to do what he likes with my face, not to mention that other shadow portrait that he’s creating in secret, which he still hasn’t shared with me and I’m beginning to doubt if he ever shall.

4 December 20–
He’s finished today. The work is framed and presented at the Palace. At first it was a burden I thought I would be happy to see the end, but a part of me wishes it would go on. There is something strangely confessional about having one’s portrait painted. This one more than the others I’ve had. One has the feeling he is not just seeing me as I appear to others, but seeing into me as I truly am. A trick of the paint, no doubt, layer on fleshy layer, knotted with time like an old tree nearing its final ring. How many more of these will I be able to pose for? A handful, I suppose, if I’m lucky, at very least two.

Before he takes his leave, he thanks me for my time. “You never did tell me whether you liked Goya,” he says. “And you never did show me the other painting you’re working on.” He shoots me one last sly look, picks up his sack and turns to leave.


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