'I talked and the Queen talked, and I got her into my mind, and I was anxious if possible to get more than just that charming profile.'
– Mary Gillick
In 1952, the young Queen Elizabeth II sat down to have her profile immortalised, for the first time, on British currency – this display revealed the artist and the process behind the portrait.
Celebrating Her Majesty The Queen's Platinum Jubilee year, 2022, this intriguing display presented the life and work of the sculptor Mary Gillick (1881–1965). Gillick enjoyed a burst of fame when, in her seventies, she was invited to model The Queen's head for the new coinage, released directly after her accession in 1952. The public were keen to celebrate their new monarch, and The Queen's newly minted likeness caused great excitement.
The show followed Gillick's long career, from her training in sculpture at London's Royal College of Art in the early 1900s, through her specialisation in medallic art, to her 1952 success and beyond. Gillick's extensive body of work includes cast medals showing an airman who shot down a Zeppelin over England during the First World War and prominent suffragette Ida Wylie. The work on display demonstrated Gillick's skill as a portraitist and as a designer and, with a 15th-century medal by Italian artist Pisanello, showed her debt to the Renaissance – a key element that fed into her portrait of Queen Elizabeth.
A highlight of the display were items presented to the British Museum by the artist's family in 2005, which included medals created by Gillick from the 1910s to the 1950s, a set of large-scale plaster models of her portrait of The Queen, and insightful documents relating to the coins.
These displays were made possible by the support of The Asahi Shimbun Company, longstanding corporate sponsors of the British Museum. The Asahi Shimbun is a Japanese leading newspaper and the company also provides a substantial information service via the internet. The company has a century-long tradition of philanthropic support, notably staging key exhibitions in Japan on art, culture and history from around the world. In addition to the Asahi Shimbun Displays, The Asahi Shimbun Company is a committed supporter of the British Museum touring exhibition programme in Japan, and funder of The Asahi Shimbun Gallery of Amaravati sculpture in Room 33a.