But perhaps most notable in the context of her work is the queen’s hair. Most of Omofemi’s portraits depict African women, for whom, he notes, their hair is a key part of their identity. Her grandfather, who sported an Afro at the time, was a strong advocate of the natural hair movement of the 1960s, encouraging men and women of African descent to embrace their hair texture. For Omofemi, it’s an artistic metaphor for freedom and power and he deliberately depicted the queen with a bold halo of black hair. “A lot of the great things the Queen has done came at a very young age, so I painted her with black hair. I also wanted to introduce my own style into this painting and, for me, hair represents the power of women.
What did Omofemi find most difficult about this commission? Her answer comes immediately: “Study the queen’s complexion.” I knew it would be a huge challenge for me because I always paint black women and I had to conquer my fear.
But as he knows only too well, each new challenge is rewarded, and he is convinced that with this painting he has achieved what he set out to do: “This portrait is one of my best works because of the emotion that was put into it.’
True, but Omofemi did more than that. He expressed the great qualities for which our Queen is so widely admired and which each portrait attempts to capture: the calm confidence with which she devoted herself to the role she was born into. “This person has conquered life.”
Tatler’s Platinum Jubilee issue hits newsstands May 26.
Power and image: royal portraits and iconography is on view at Sotheby’s from May 28 to June 15, 2022.