It would appear that the art world is not too fond of the Duchess of Cambridge’s first official portrait. Since its unveiling in the UK last week, reviews ranging from the mild ‘ordinary’ to the much harsher ‘catastrophic’ have been streaming in.
Commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and painted by 2007 BP Portrait Award winner Paul Emsley, the piece recently joined a centuries-old collection of royal portraits. According to the artist, Kate had requested that the portrait represent her natural self and not an official persona. Working from photographs and a couple of sittings with the Duchess, Emsley attempted to achieve this over several months last year.
Although the Duchess herself seemed pleased with the result, the art elite found the image lacking in many respects. Robin Simon, editor of the British Art Journal, wrote of the portrait, ‘Thank goodness, the beautiful Duchess of Cambridge does not look like this.’ Some observers expressed the opinion that the portrait made Kate look much older than her 31 years. Other more creative descriptions mentioned ‘an undertaker’s makeover’, ‘hamsterish cheeks’ and ‘something unpleasant from the Twilight franchise’.
In defence of his painting’s supposed lack of character, Emsley explained that Kate’s natural beauty represented a challenge: ‘I think any artist would agree that with an older face, with lines or wrinkles, or strong distinguishing features, it’s easier to create a likeness. But with a genuinely beautiful face, it’s harder to convey character.’ He acknowledged that the painting would not be to everyone’s taste, saying ‘I’m developed enough as an artist to understand that there are different points of view. I have to believe in what I do.’
A matter of taste or just an uninspiring portrait? Let us know what you think.
Chisanga Mukuka, CT intern