Arts & Culture

Queen Sonja of Norway Is Also an Accomplished Artist

The 81-year-old queen consort balances royal duties with messy easels.
IMAGE ROLF M. AAGAARD/ ROYAL COURT
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The suburban Long Island building is nondescript, the security detail minding it discreet. Inside, Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway is involved in a messy business. Her hair perfectly coiffed, her gray corduroys and navy cardigan covered by a white lab coat, Sonja is finishing a four-day stint at ULAE (Universal Limited Art Editions), a fine art print studio and publisher renowned for collaborating with the likes of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

A photographer since childhood, the 81-year-old Sonja has come to the U.S. to make original prints riffing on her photographs, a process that has encompassed drawing on mylar, doubling images, and experimenting with realism-busting color and handmade paper.


Two works by Queen Sonja

“Sometimes you get stuck, and then it opens up,” Sonja says as she hands tissue paper to Bill Goldston, a master printer and longtime head of ULAE, who is boxing up her work for the trip back to Oslo. It was Goldston, a friend of Sonja’s for more than 25 years, who cajoled the queen into trying printmaking several years ago. He thought her work was too good to keep private.

Sonja has put her artistic bent to good use. In 2011 she created the Queen Sonja Art Foundation, and the following year, with the proceeds from the sales of her work, presented her first award for printmaking to a young Nordic artist. The biannual juried prize subsequently went international—Tauba Auerbach, an American, won in 2016—and this November the queen will present the first lifetime achievement award at a ceremony in ­London.

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King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway in an official portrait taken in 2016.

In 1968, decades before princes William and Harry found wives among the title-free masses, Crown Prince Harald of Norway wed Sonja Haraldsen, a commoner, after a nine-year courtship. Sonja, who became queen consort in 1991, found ways to integrate her love of art into her royal duties.

On a 1982 visit to the U.S. she asked to meet an American artist and was driven to the Factory, where Andy Warhol requested she sit for Polaroid portraits.

Two of the six silk-screen paintings he subsequently produced are now in the royal family’s collection; the king and queen’s daughter and son prodded them into buying the second one, and now they take turns displaying it. “It was very expensive,” Sonja says. “My husband was reluctant.”

Sonja’s own art is rooted in nature. On one wall at ULAE is a photograph she made while cross-country skiing outside Oslo that captures the hushed solitude of the winter landscape.


A 1982 portrait of Queen Sonja by Andy Warhol

For a set of lithographs based on the image, the queen enlarged a tree’s snow-covered branches, then drew into them, emphasizing their gracefully arcing lines. “There are so many possibilities, and the press is so fascinating,” she says. “You never know what it will look like.”

On another wall is a collaboration with New York–based Kiki Smith, a frequent guest artist at ULAE. Dangling from a blue-tone photograph of a barn shot by Sonja is a blue, pink, green, and yellow abstract drawing on Japanese paper that is meant to be crumpled. “This one,” Goldston declares approvingly, “should go to MoMA.”

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Queen Sonja behind the camera on a state visit to China in 1997.

*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com

*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.

<>* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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Julie Belcove
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