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The Duchess of Cambridge has today visited the National Portrait Gallery in London to view her first official portrait by artist Paul Emsley.
Hayley Dixon in The Daily Telegraph commented, "Gently smiling with her face framed by her hair, the artist admitted it was difficult to paint such a beautiful woman. At Kate's requests the oil on canvas painting portrays her natural rather than official persona. She thanked the 65-year-old artist, telling him: "It's just amazing, I thought it was brilliant." William also had high praise for the painting, saying: "It's beautiful, it's absolutely beautiful." The Duchess, who is a patron of the gallery, told Mrs Emsley: "I had such a fun day at the studio." On a dark background, a trademark of the award-winning artist, the Duchess is wearing a Windsor blue top with a tie neck that Mr Emsley invented himself after she wore different outfits for their sittings in May and June last year. The earrings in the painting were once a favourite of Princess Diana and given to Kate as a wedding gift from William. She had the sapphire and diamond studs, which match her engagement ring, remodelled into drop earrings. The Duchess, who has a keen interest in art and was studying Art History when she met Prince William at St Andrews, was personally involved in the selection of the artist, who won the Gallery's Portrait Award Competition in 2007. Mr Emsley said he was honoured to get paint one of the most photographed women in the world but felt “under pressure” to get it right. He said: “I was thrilled, any artist would be, but then with time I began to realise the importance and that made me nervous.”
Portraits are often controversial and at best should not be simply a slavish photograph-like image of the subject. Some element of the subjects character ought to be interpreted in the piece. Apparently artist and subject had two sittings; a whole day at the artist's studio in Wiltshire and later an hour at Kensington Palace. Emsley took 3½ months to complete the work, which follows his typical style of rather dark and serious works, although in this portrait he has allowed the duchess a smile and added much more colour than is typical with his paintings.
Do I like it? Well, as a likeness I guess it has captured much of Kate's beauty, but I feel it fails to grasp the freshness, youth, sparkle and warmth of the girl - as a girl is what she is. She appears older, rather lined, sad-eyed and with a rather taught, clenched smile which, for me, doesn't relate to the character I believe I know from the media, and which is typified by by her parallel photograph above. Was the artist suggesting the future cares and duties of the royal grind with which this young couple will be all too familiar in the years ahead?
Yes, Emsley has done 'his thing' with the subject, but I would then question, not whether it's a good portrait, but more, whether Emsley was the right choice for the duchesses' first portrait. He has created some amazing work with Mandela (left), other portraits and many animal subjects, but it's heavy stuff and he wouldn't have been my first choice for our 'fairy tale princess'! From what I've read, the general public seem less than impressed too. Kate says she thought it "amazing... brilliant", which doesn't quite say she likes it, but being royal one can't say what one actually feels, although I suspect in succeeding years I'd be delighted to be getting much more honest and direct opinion from these two, and that will be no bad thing!
What do you think? Comment below...
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