James Partee’s painting of Queen Elizabeth’s racehorse Carlton House is now a part of the monarch’s permanent art collection. Prints of Partee’s work and another by Michael Collins will be auctioned at the Quail Albany Foundation Celebrity Conservation Hunt event Jan. 22-25. (Special photo)
ATLANTA — Bainbridge native James Partee Jr. is one of the country’s most renowned wildlife artists, his works in watercolor, acrylic and oil having garnered more than 60 national awards and become must-haves by a growing list of celebrity art enthusiasts.
But the painting that will forever be Partee’s most celebrated work is one he did as a special request for England’s Queen Elizabeth II.
Partee and fellow Georgia artist Michael Collins, through their friendship with royal firearms instructor and outdoor enthusiast Graham Browne, became the first artists to create artwork depicting favorite royal sporting animals at the special request of a monarch. That the pair personally delivered those works to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip at Sandringham, the royals’ country estate, made the experience even more amazing.
“Having met so many wonderful influential people during my 40 years as an artist, I’m just not the kind of guy who feels intimidated by celebrities,” Partee said during a phone conversation from his suburban Atlanta home. “But this one swept me off my feet. Because the queen was such an easy person to talk with — it was actually just like chatting with your grandmother — I was calm. But I was absolutely overwhelmed.
“I’m 64 now, and I don’t think I’ll ever top this one. Having the queen engage me to do a painting is definitely the highlight of may career.”
Conservation and wildlife enthusiasts will have an opportunity to bid on special prints of Partee’s (“Carlton House”) and Collins’ (“Muskett”) historic works during the Quail Albany Foundation’s Celebrity Conservation Hunt event at the Albany Civic Center Jan. 22-25.
“When Michael and I presented our works to the queen, she asked specifically that we not sell any prints of the paintings,” Partee said. “She asked that when prints were published that they only be given to friends and family or be donated to worthy environmental and humanitarian charities around the world.
“Two hundred sets of prints have been created, and we’re going to present most of them at charity functions. We donated a set to an event in Texas recently that brought in $8,500. The set in Albany will be one of the early ones.”
It was perhaps fate that brought Partee, Collins and Browne, an international sales representative of Paris-based LaPorte Sporting Clays who has served the royal family for more than 25 years, together. The artists’ works were prominently featured at conservation and wildlife events the country over, and Browne was a regular attendee of such events.
“Michael and I were attending the Hollywood Sporting Clays shoot in California, and Graham came up and told us he knew us from our work,” said Partee, who with Collins is widely recognized among the world’s most engaging artists. “Michael mentioned that he would like to create a work for the queen. Graham was talking about the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee coming up (in 2012), and I said one thing the queen didn’t have in her royal art collection was a Partee or a Collins original. Graham looked at me and said, ‘You never know what might take place.’”
When Browne returned to England, he mentioned his conversation with the Georgia-born artists to Queen Elizabeth. The Queen Mother’s staff did the proper vetting of the pair, and a short while later they received an email from Browne telling them the queen would like them to do portraits of her favorite sporting animals.
It was early 2011 when photographs of the animals arrived, and both Partee and Collins spent the better part of that year finishing their works. Partee painted “Carlton House,” the racehorse given to the queen as a gift by Sheikh Mohammad al Maktoum of Dubai, in oil, while Collins created an acrylic portrait of “Muskett,” one of the royal’s favorite hunting dogs.
“During that year we were in regular communication with Buckingham Palace,” Partee said. “I was flying to an art show in Las Vegas when I got a call from Michael. He said the queen’s staff had sent an email requesting that we meet with her after church at her private residence on Sunday (April 15, 2012).”
The artists arrived in England on April 12 and were given a grand tour of the queen’s and prince’s country estate at Sandringham, Norfolk. The estate’s palace, given to Queen Victoria as a gift by Prince Albert in 1861, was filled with treasures that left Partee and Collins in awe.
“There is a gun collection owned by Her Majesty and Prince Phillip estimated to be worth around $50 million,” Partee marveled. “We saw a little pedal car that Prince Charles played with as a young boy.
“There was a church on the estate — St. Mary Magdalene Church — that originated around 1081. Michael and I were instructed that we’d been invited to church services there with the queen and Prince Phillip on Sunday.”
After church services, the artists and Browne were invited to join the royal couple at their private getaway residence located on estate property directly behind the church.
“I was just flabbergasted,” Partee said. “Michael and I walked in with our framed paintings under our arms, and we presented them to Her Majesty. The Queen Mother said, ‘These are fabulous. They look just like Carlton House and Muskett, and they will be placed in my private collection.’
“I learned later from Graham that being personally invited to the queen’s private residence was an amazing honor. He said even dignitaries such as the president of the United States would not have gotten such an invitation.”
Partee’s royal adventure (which is chronicled on his photo blog at jamespartee.com) is far removed from his days as a boy traipsing through the woods of rural Decatur County. He developed his love for nature and his eye for artistic beauty while on Boy Scout outings along Lake Seminole and the Flint River.
After completing studies at Troy State University and Valdosta State University, Partee was in line — and expected — to claim his place in the family’s car dealership business. But his grandmother helped change that.
“Art was just a hobby, but I was pretty good at it,” he said. “One day my grandmother told me she hoped to live long enough to see me do something with my talent. That got me to thinking.”
If it was Partee’s grandmother who got him thinking seriously about using his artistic talent, it was conservation-minded friend Dan Denton, who saw his work and asked Partee to do a painting for a Duck’s Unlimited fundraiser, that changed his career — and life — forever.
“He saw my artwork and asked me to do a painting,” Partee said. “Then I was asked to do another, and then another. I ended up opening my own studio shortly after that, and I never went back to the business world.”
Now, 40 years in, Partee’s work is celebrated all over the world. A list of celebrities who own his works — Bo Jackson, Chuck Yeager, Annie Lockhart, country music’s Mandrell sisters, astronaut Wally Shirrah, Steve Kanaly, Nancy Lopez, Ray Knight — would be the envy of artists everywhere. He’s won 14 various stamp print competitions, including Georgia’s duck stamp, and perhaps most impressively, his work was selected as part of the Smithsonian’s “People of the Century” permanent collection.
And, of course, there is “Carlton House Winning at York,” a part of Queen Elizabeth’s royal collection.
“I’ve been selected for some wonderful honors in my career,” Partee said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with some pretty well-known Hollywood folks who think I’m great because of my work. But being asked by the queen to do a painting for her? Man, that tops it all. As an artist and as a person, I can think of no higher honor than that.”