The Royals

Time warp: Official portrait places Queen Elizabeth in imagined scene

May 23, 2013 at 1:21 PM ET

Image: A detail of the painting: The Coronation Theatre: Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II by Australian-born London-based artist Ralph Heimans.
NBC News
An official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by artist Ralph Heimans portrays her in a contemplative pose — and in a setting from six decades ago.

A new portrait of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II celebrating the 60th anniversary of her coronation has gone on display at London’s Westminster Abbey—but it depicts a scene that never happened.

The 9-by-11-foot canvas, by Australian-born artist Ralph Heimans, portrays an imagined scene of the modern-day Queen standing at the spot where her coronation took place when she was 27 years old.

Composed from sketches and photographs, the scene shows of the Queen at the sacrarium of Westminster Abbey, the point in the Abbey where Britain’s ceremonial Coronation Chair was last placed in 1953.

Heimans said he was inspired by watching video footage of the coronation and felt moved to place the Queen as we know her today in an historic setting.

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“A vision came to me to bring the Queen back to the spot where everything happened and to consider what might she be thinking and feeling at that moment,” he told NBC News. “I like to work with narratives that engage people in current events.”

He proposed the concept to Buckingham Palace and received positive feedback before embarking on the four months it took to complete the oil painting.

Image: Conservator Krista Blessley conducts a condition report on a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II
Dan Kitwood / Getty Images
Conservator Krista Blessley studies the condition of Queen Elizabeth's portrait on May 17 before it is positioned inside the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey in London.

The Queen is pictured wearing State Dress, including the crimson velvet Robe of State, which she wore to her coronation on June 2, 1953.

She is captured in a very contemplative pose, but Heimans said what she may be thinking is up to personal interpretation: “People can read into it what they want,” he said.

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The Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev. John Hall, told NBC News he though the portrait was unlike any other.

“It’s very unusual. I don’t believe the Queen has been painted in the Abbey before.”

But it’s not just the location that makes this work of so exceptional for the Dean.

“I have never seen a portrait of the Queen looking so inward, in such a public space. There’s a real truth about that—it’s not the way we usually see the Queen.”

On June 4, there will be a service of celebration at the Abbey attended by the Queen and other members of the royal family to mark the 60th anniversary of her coronation. The new portrait is the highlight of an exhibition in the Abbey's Chapter House celebrating Elizabeth’s reign. The exhibition is open to the public through Sept. 27.

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