Australian portrait artist Ralph Heimans had the honour of being selected to paint the only official portrait of the Queen in her Diamond Jubilee year. The result of six months of work was unveiled at 2pm by the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, at the National Portrait Gallery as part of a display, Glorious: A Diamond Jubilee portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which will be on show until March.
The 42-year-old Sydney-born artist, who is now based in Britain, has been a portrait painter for 25 years. His subjects have included former High Court justice Michael Kirby. But he said the Queen was "the ultimate subject" for any portrait artist.
He said he could "only speculate" about why he was chosen but thought the fact the portrait was to be unveiled in Canberra and displayed in Australia might have been part of it.
It was a formidable task. Not only did he have just one hour with the Queen, who modelled for photos in full regalia in Buckingham Palace on March 21 – "I've never snapped so fast in my life" – but he knew he was also in a long line of artists who had painted her before.
"The biggest challenge was saying something original about the Queen and producing something that would stand the test of time."
Inspired by the European Old Masters in his play of light and shadow, Heimans said his approach to portraiture was "very much narrative based: I love telling stories about my subjects."
He wanted to capture the Queen's uniqueness in his portrait, which locates her in Westminster Abbey, where her coronation ceremony took place in 1953. She wore the robe she wore on the day of her coronation and Queen Victoria's diamonds.
"She's amazingly vulnerable ... I wanted to be very honest," he said.
"She's a beautiful subject to paint, she has a great face."
And, he said, "She's had a singular life, unlike any other person on the planet."
While the Queen herself has not yet seen the work, a representative from Buckingham Palace has.
"They were thrilled."
She's amazingly vulnerable ... I wanted to be very honest.Ralph Heimans on the Queen
After the Canberra display there are plans for the portrait to go on tour to Britain and other Commonwealth countries.
Glorious: A Diamond Jubilee portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery until March 2013.