Gilbert & George (b. 1943 & b. 1942)
Gilbert & George (b. 1943 & b. 1942)

To Her Majesty

Gilbert & George (b. 1943 & b. 1942)
To Her Majesty
each: consecutively numbered from '1' to '37' (on the reverse) and titled 'To Her Majesty' (on a paper label affixed to the reverse)
gelatin silver print, in thirty-seven parts
57 1/8 x 137 7/8in. (145 x 350cm.)
Executed in 1973
Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1980.
W. Jahn, The Art of Gilbert & George, New York 1989 (exhibition view illustrated, p. 167).
Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-2005, Volume 1 1971-1988, London 2007 (illustrated, p. 137, exhibition view illustrated, p. 35).
Eindhoven, Van Abbemuseum, Gilbert & George, November 1980 (illustrated, p. 133). This exhibition later travelled to Dusseldorf, Kunsthalle, January 1981; Paris, Musée national d'Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, April 1981 and London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, July 1981.
Bordeaux, CAPC Musée d'Art contemporain, Gilbert & George, The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, May-September 1986 (illustrated, p. 55). This exhibition later travelled to Basel, Kunsthalle, September-November 1986; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, November 1986-January 1987; Madrid, Palacio de Velázquez, Parque del Retiro, February-March 1987; Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, April-June 1987 and London, Hayward Gallery, July-September 1987.
London, Tate Modern, Gilbert & George, February-May 2007, pl. 19 (illustrated, p. 50). This exhibition later travelled to Munich, Haus der Kunst Munich, June-September 2007 and Turin, Castello di Rivoli, October 2007-January 2008.


Executed in 1973, To Her Majesty belongs to an early series of photographic works created by the self-proclaimed 'living-sculptures' Gilbert & George. As with all the works in the Drinking Sculptures series, it consists of a group of black and white images commemorating evenings of drunkenness undertaken by the inseparable duo during a prolonged period of drinking bouts in the early 1970s. Gilbert & George inaugurated this series on their return to England following their spectacular success in both Europe and America with their work The Singing Sculpture, in which the artists had performed Flanagan and Allen's vaudeville standard 'Underneath the Arches' to enthralled crowds of art world spectators. Having established their joint persona as an evolving work of art, Gilbert & George effectively brought Josef Beuys' utopian vision of a social sculpture and a future where everyone is an artist to its logical conclusion.

Despite the success of their live performances, Gilbert & George ultimately found the experience limiting and began to create pictures as a means of charting the progress of their lives and extending the idea of living sculpture without requiring their physical presence. The drinking series was motivated, however, by destructive, rather than creative urges;

George: 'We wanted to explore our way out of The Singing Sculpture. It was like a drunken safari to explore new territory. We know drunkenness is a time-honoured subject for artists and writers, but the way we did it was new.
Gilbert: When we did the Drinking Sculptures, we felt destructive. The happy days had been destroyed by the difficulty of life and art. We meant it. They were total life, but everybody in the art world thought they were meant to be funny.
George: We could see that all the other artists were drinking, but during the day they painted a nice grey square with a yellow line down the side. We thought that was completely fake. Why shouldn't all of life come into your art? The artists drink, but they do sober pictures. So we did drinking sculptures, true to life' (in W. Jahn, 'Naked Human Artist's', TateEtc., Issue 9, Spring 2007, reproduced on

By offering themselves as objects for contemplation in works like To Her Majesty, Gilbert & George sought to elevate ordinary experience and to unravel the ideologies and pretensions of art history. In doing so, they have pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable ever since their time studying at St. Martin's in the late sixties, where they rejected the overwhelming focus on formalism and materiality in art at that time. In the process, Gilbert & George have created an honest 'warts and all' portrait of modern reality that contends with all its horrifying ugliness and fascinating beauty. Like their previous use of old vaudeville songs and pastoral imagery, the artists' portrayal of a age-old culture of heavy drinking both propagates an image of Britain and at the same time attacks its conventions, reflecting the accepted norms of British society as bizarre extremes. This outsider's appreciation of the general societal urge for conformity is further inverted by their adopted façade of immaculately tailored three-button suits and expressionless faces, which are remarkable for their unnervingly bland ordinariness. In viewing themselves as a living breathing sculpture that contains emotion and feels pain, Gilbert & George embody idea that an artist's sacrifice and personal investment is a necessary condition of art, yet they have found self-deprecating humour to be the perfect foil for confrontation, enabling them to deflect the discomfort of public scrutiny.

The Drinking Sculptures were Gilbert & George's first large scale photographic series of works. The artists had quickly abandoned painting and drawing installations after their performance work, as people were placing too much value in the technical aspects of their art, choosing instead to work with photography and film for the drinking series for its directness and supposed neutrality. Although they have deliberately removed the individualisation of the hand-made object in To Her Majesty, the work nevertheless displays a careful consideration of the arrangement of the photographs. The decorative mouldings, curtains and etched mirrors of a typical Victorian pub are carefully balanced to create a form of black-framed altarpiece, heralding the stained-glass window style that would come to characterise all of their art.

As one of the earliest pieces from the series, To Her Majesty presents the then dipsomaniac pair as if they were photographed in a relatively sober moment of the evening. The dignified symmetry of their postures would eventually give way to an Hogarthian level of inebriation and boorishness that nudged them towards the violence, beauty and squalor of their later works. The whimsy and humour of their filmed performance entitled 'Gordon's makes us drunk' (1972, Tate Gallery), in which they celebrate their favourite beverage in a deadpan fashion, would ultimately disintegrate into the bleak landscape of their Dusty Corners, Dead Boards and Shadow pictures. These in turn opened out onto gritty portraits of their run down East-End neighbourhood in Spitalfields. As the seventies itself seemed to progressively darken into a bleak grey landscape of industrial action, urban uprisings and political violence, Gilbert & George seemed to follow it down, descending into themselves and into a prolonged phase of public heavy drinking that in many ways reflected the collective suffering of the decade.