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‘They’ll think I’m being measured for the guillotine’ — Utah LDS artist recalled painting Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth

Arnold Friberg’s brush with royalty included candid and comical conversations.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Arnold Friberg poses with one of his works in progress in his Salt Lake City studio in 2006. Earlier in his career, Friberg painted portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and then-Prince Charles.

The legacy of Utah artist Arnold Friberg lives on in his paintings — particularly his reverential rendition of a kneeling George Washington, his he-man portrayals of Book of Mormon prophets and his work on Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film “The Ten Commandments.

But the late Latter-day Saint painter, who died in 2010 at age 96, also had a brush with royalty. More specifically, British royalty. And more pointedly, Queen Elizabeth II, who died Sept. 8, and then-Prince (now King) Charles.

In an interview with Salt Lake Tribune reporter Mark Eddington in 2006, Friberg recalled his palatial encounters with the once queen and future king.

Here is Eddington’s rich account:

Horse sense in art is uncommon, and viewers of Friberg’s horses sense the artist has it. That’s why Canada hired him to paint Prince Charles (in 1978) and Queen Elizabeth (in 1990) with Centenial, a blue-blood thoroughbred the Canadian Mounties bequeathed England’s royal family.

Both times, Friberg set up shop in Buckingham Palace. Charles and Friberg enjoyed a good relationship. The artist delights in recalling Charles’ quip as he took the measure of the prince’s head with a sculptor’s calipers.

“Do you think they can see us?” the prince asked while perusing the people outside the window. “They’ll think I’m being measured for the guillotine.”

(Salt Lake Tribune archives) Arnold Friberg sketches Prince Charles before he creates his portrait in this undated photograph.

Upon hearing Friberg grew up in Arizona, Charles asked, “Is Arizona in Texas?”

“I said, ‘Is Belgium in the U.S.S.R.?’”

As Charles posed next to Centenial, Friberg grew frustrated. No matter where the prince stood, he blocked part of the horse the artist had to see to sketch.

“I finally asked, ‘Do you need to be in this thing?’ Oh, we had a lot of fun. He had a great sense of humor. England is lucky to have him.”

A dozen years later, this time with [Friberg’s wife] Heidi, it was Her Royal Highness’ turn. The Fribergs had four sittings with the queen — some with and some without the horse.

While her majesty does, on occasion, consent to pose, she dislikes poseurs. Be yourselves, her executive secretary advised the Fribergs.

(Salt Lake Tribune archives) Artist Arnold Friberg poses for a photograph with Queen Elizabeth II and her portrait.

They were — and Elizabeth and Heidi hit it off, jabbering about Charles’ recent polo injury and a nearby portrait by an English artist. The queen asked the Utah couple what they thought of it.

“Do you want me to be honest or diplomatic?” Heidi recalls asking. “She said, ‘I want to know what you think.’ I said, ‘I’d fire the artist.’”

During the last sitting, on July 4, Friberg struggled to load film in his camera. Sensing his nervousness, the queen dismounted her horse to help.

There they were, a Utah artist drawn to portraits and a British monarch born to rule, standing cheek to cheek examining a camera.

“‘You see,’” Friberg remembers her saying, “‘you didn’t engage the sprocket. Now it will work.’ And she was right.”

Just back from Canada, the queen later complained of jet lag, prompting Friberg to lodge his own gripe.

“‘You’re making me work on our national holiday,’” he recounts. “‘I know what you’re doing. You’re getting even for Bunker Hill.’ And she laughed.”

When the executive secretary invited the Fribergs to her majesty’s birthday bash, Arnold protested he didn’t have anything to wear.

“Well, you don’t have to go,” the aide told them. “But being invited to the queen’s birthday is a pretty big thing.”

The Fribergs went — Arnold in a borrowed top hat from an English lord and formal wear scrounged from the Canadian consul general, Heidi with a hat she bought at a discount store.

Read Eddington’s full portrait of this Utah artist here. You can view Friberg’s paintings here.

(Thomas Burr | The Salt Lake Tribune) A patron checks out the original painting of "The Prayer at Valley Forge" by the late Arnold Friberg at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. During his career, Friberg painted portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and then-Prince Charles.

(Photo by Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah artist Arnold Friberg with his epic paintings of biblical scenes from Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" at the Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City in 2006. Earlier in his career, Friberg painted portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and then-Prince Charles.

(Tribune archives) "Captain Moroni Raises the Title of Liberty," by Arnold Friberg.