When King George V was crowned on June 22, 1911, newspapers from around the world sent their best artist-correspondents to cover the event.
Joseph Pennell was one of them. He recalled the scene in the artist’s gallery: “In the midst, behind a six-foot canvas, was Tuxen, the Danish Court Painter; at his side the English Academic Bacon in black skullcap, making a six-inch sketch for the official British picture, and Gillot, the official French Painter…Every paper in the world with a London correspondent was represented.”
There were a couple of photographers and a film cameraman there as well, but they were hardly a footnote.
The artists had to work fast to complete their drawings for the next day’s paper. “Every artist had a little notebook which he took out of the pocket of his frock coat and made dots in, putting down his top hat to do so.”
Pennell suspected his contemporaries of cribbing likenesses from pre-existing photos, or from starting their drawings ahead of time. The top artists had been to the rehearsals and told where the dignitaries would stand. But the actual event varied from the plan: “Few of the people stood where they should, fewer wore the robes they ought, and no one did as they were told.”
Pennell himself brought four large sheets of lithographic paper, chalks, and a drawing board. He also brought his lunch, knowing the ceremony would last many hours. He insisted on a position in the organ loft, giving him a sweeping view of the scene, including the peers, peeresses, ambassadors, envoys, dukes, princes, major generals, and admirals (detail, below).
It took him about three hours to establish the perspective of the interior of Westiminster Hall, two or three more hours more to draw the figures on the location, (though they were constantly changing positions), and another hour or two back at the studio to finish it up. His drawing was reproduced in the London Daily Chronicle on June 23, 1911.
“Today,” said Pennell in 1925, “There is no one capable of doing drawings like them save us. Illustration has gone to the dogs—or photography.”
Quotes are from: Adventures of an Illustrator, by Joseph Pennell, 1925