© the artist's estate. Photo credit: The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds
(b Milan, 7 June 1910; d Florence, 28 Oct. 1988). Italian painter (and occasional sculptor), the only artist of his time to become internationally famous as a society and state portraitist. The turning point in his career was a commission from the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers to paint a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (1954–5, Fishmongers' Hall, London); it was reproduced endlessly, notably on the postage stamps and banknotes of various countries, and the jacket blurb of Annigoni's autobiography (An Artist's Life, 1977) claims that it made him ‘the most famous artist in the world—not excluding even Picasso’. Subsequently he painted many other celebrity sitters, including several other members of the British royal family, Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and Pope John XXIII.
In style and technique he based himself on the masters of the Italian Renaissance, placing great stress on draughtsmanship and often working in tempera. Characteristically his work was smoothly finished, melodramatic in lighting, and often rather melancholy in mood. Annigoni also painted religious works (including frescos in Italian churches) and ambitious allegorical scenes, and he regarded these as more important than his portraits. Critics often dismissed his work as portentously inflated and tasteless, but he was admired by many traditionalists (Munnings called him ‘the greatest painter of the age’), and attracted remarkable public attention. More than 200,000 people saw his second portrait of the Queen (NPG, London) during the fortnight when it was first exhibited in 1970, although this rather severe, schoolmarmish image had a mixed reception, proving much less popular than the glamorous 1954–5 painting.
Text source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)