Society and culture



1993 Richard Hamilton (1922 − 2011)

The artist’s job has always been that of selecting and reassembling elements from a changing, chaotic experience of the world. In creating order, coherence and stability from the flux of life, the artist produces an icon – an epiphany: the painter has to fix, formalize, a momentary enlightenment.(1 )

Richard Hamilton, the herald of Pop art, seized on images that defined the times. One of the momentous events of 1993 yielded a picture that resonated. On 19 January 1993, the Japanese Imperial Palace announced the engagement of The Crown Prince of Japan, heir to the oldest ruling dynasty in the world, to Masako Owada, the daughter of a high level diplomat. Their six-year courtship had been a media obsession and their wedding, on 9 June 1993, was to attract a global audience of around half a billion people.

Hamilton’s source photograph is an official shot of the couple backed by blank studio drapery and facing a future defined by rules and rituals. He has used technological wizardry to turn the photograph first into a print and then a painting. Whereas a photograph printed on paper is perishable, Hamilton has printed the image on canvas. The material transformation superimposes a layer of irony, and as a manipulated image Testament bears witness to the ambiguous claims of tradition on its subjects.

The Crown Prince is standing, his body language tense, his lips pursed and his hands by his sides; a pair of white gloves in his right hand and a white carnation in his lapel indicate the coming nuptials. His half-rimmed spectacles, a classic 1950s style and his nondescript three-piece, although formal, suit seem incongruous with the elaborate traditional costume of his partner. His betrothed is seated with her body turned towards her husband. Her hair is tucked under a wide white bridal cap, topped by an arrangement of yellow blossoms. Her hands rest on her lap and her body is stiffly bound in heavy folds of fabric up to the throat (the blowsy floral pattern contrast with the tightness of the wrapping); at the knee, the fabric peels back to reveal a hot pink interior, while the wings of the kimono settle in geometric crumples on the floor. There is an echo of Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Marriage (1434), whose female protagonist rests a prescient hand on a bulging, richly draped belly. Hamilton has replicated the dimensions of The Arnolfini Marriage, demanding a comparison. Unlike the Arnolfini portrait, the eyes of the Crown couple are not fixed on each other but offstage left, giving the picture a certain edginess.

Hamilton attests to the complexities of the royal couple’s situation by subtly re-tinting the image with a warm yellowish tone. He digitally converted photos into transparencies to be made into enlarged prints, to be mounted on canvas. Cibachrome is a photographic process that uses azo dyes (valued for their vivid colours and resistance to fading), and Hamilton’s painting over the top is smooth to the point of imperceptible. He was to revisit the image in 1998, with The marriage(Tate Collection, London), where Hamilton gives the print a bluish tint. He has also moved on from the painted print to a print that imitates painting. Ever the flag-bearer for new technology, he used a digital paintbox to mimic brushwork, its artificially contrived looseness establishing a spiky contrast with the formality of the pose. By this time pressure on Crown Princess Masako to bear a male heir had escalated. Her pregnancy in 1999 resulted in miscarriage, and after giving birth to a daughter in 2001 she has since suffered nervous breakdowns.

( ) Richard Hamilton: Prints 1984–91 (Editions Hansjörg Mayer, Stuttgart and London 1991), p.11

Richard Hamilton, Collected Words (Thames & Hudson, London 1982) Richard Morphet (ed.), Richard Hamilton (Tate Gallery, London 1992) Richard Hamilton, Sarat Maharaj & Gordon House, Richard Hamilton

(British Council, London 1993) Richard Hamilton, Etienne Lullin, Stephen Coppel, Richard Hamilton: prints and multiples 1932-2002: catalogue raisonne (Kunstmuseum Winterthur/Yale Center for British Art, 2003) Lazlo Glozer, Richard Hamilton: Retrospective – Paintings and drawings 1937 to 2002 (Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Cologne 2003)

  • Accession Number P6222
  • Dimensions 82 X 60 CM

Glossary (4)

  • Canvas

    A piece of cloth woven from flax, hemp or cotton fibres. The word has generally come to refer to any piece of firm, loosely woven fabric used to paint on. Its surface is typically prepared for painting by priming with a ground.

  • Cibachrome

    A particular type of reversal paper and printing process, which makes it possible to obtain richly coloured prints from positive transparencies without an intermediary negative. This process creates a finely detailed and long lasting print. (see Ilfochrome Classic)

  • Painting

    Work of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is a tightly stretched piece of canvas, paper or a wooden panel. Painting involves a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's intellectual concerns effecting the content of a work.

  • Photograph

    A permanent image taken by means of the chemical action of light on light-sensitive surfaces.

Past exhibitions


  • 2003
    • Germany, Cologne, Museum Ludwig
    • Spain, Barcelona, Museu D'art Contemporani De Barcelona


  • 1995
    • Cyprus, Nicosia, Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre
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