The Duchess of Cambridge's first official portrait was unveiled Friday.The Duchess of Cambridge's first official royal portrait was unveiled Friday morning at London's National Portrait Gallery, and though she seems to be happy with the final result, reviews of the painting have been decidedly mixed.
"It looks like Paul Emsley was going for an 'old masters' look with this painting. She has a half-smile, a Mona Lisa smile, which is very mysterious—like she has a secret," Robin Cembalest, executive editor of ARTNews, told Yahoo! Shine. "As for the criticism, it's difficult to paint a portrait everyone will like of someone so incredibly famous."
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The main complaint from artists and critics is that the portrait makes Kate look old. "How does one manage to make a gorgeous, youthful and lithe woman like Kate look like this elderly spinster?" asked Tom Sykes at The Daily Beast. "Kate Middleton's portrait is unveiled and she looks 53!" read a headline at The Stir website.
But Paddy Johnson, the founder and editor of a New York based art review website, says the portrait's lack of personality is its real fault. "The Duchess asked Paul Emsley to portray her naturally without asking whether this was a particular skill of the artist. It is not. Emsley is a wildlife painter, known for his paintings that remove his subject from their natural environment," she told Shine. "He does the same thing in this piece—setting her against a personality—less background—and rather than creating a sense of mystery, as it does when he paints a rhino, it deadens the work. Good portraits capture the inner life of the sitter, they don't remove it."
William Powhida, a Brooklyn based artist, had a very different interpretation of the painting's lack of setting: "Mr. Emsley has managed to convey the unyielding passage of time in his portrait of the Duchess," he told Shine. Without a background for reference and with her clothing barely visible, the portrait of the Duchess is, in a way, timeless.
The reason for the painting's photo-realism is because it was in fact painted from a photograph that was taken during one of Emsley's two meetings with the Duchess. Kate emphasized that she wanted to appear as "her natural self as opposed to her official self" in the portrait, Emsley told the Daily Mail. Given the parameters he was given to work in, "I think Mr. Emsley masterfully conveys the subtleties of Middleton's portrait sitting experience," Greg Allen, a D.C. and New York City based arts writer and filmmaker, told Shine. "The painting is well suited for the important role royal portraiture plays in our modern, image-based culture."
Will and Kate with the artist, Paul Emsley.But British art critics thought Emsley went too far with his realistic portrayal of the Duchess, categorizing it as a total failure.
"Fortunately, the Duchess of Cambridge looks nothing like this in real life. I'm really sad to say this is a rotten portrait," said the Daily Mail's art critic, Robin Simon.
Sunday Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak told the BBC that the painting made the Duchess appear "older" with a "rather dour" look on her face. Not only did he say he was disappointed by the portrait, he also claimed that Kate had "been let down by the picture."
Dominic Glover for the International Business Times even suggested that in the portrait "the mother of the future King or Queen of England would not look out of place next to R-Patz and K-Stew in vampire franchise, Twilight."
These comments are indicative of how difficult it is for a portrait to be considered successful. If the artist paints too realistically, then the painting is considered unflattering. If the artist paints to cover up the subject's imperfections, then you have an inaccurate portrayal.
Friday morning Kate and William appeared at the National Portrait Gallery to see the finished product and were joined by Kate's entire family—her parents Carole and Michael, her sister Pippa and brother James.
Kate spent 10 minutes studying the portrait, according to the Daily Mail, after which she said to Emsley, "I thought it was brilliant. It's just amazing. Absolutely brilliant."
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