The first official portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge, popularly known by her former name Kate Middleton, was unveiled in London on Friday, and opinion was sharply divided over an image many deemed unflattering.
The 31-year-old, who as a glamorous future queen is one of the world’s most photographed women, is portrayed in the large canvas with a faint smile, long, copper-tinted hair and shadow under her eyes.
Award-winning artist Paul Emsley, surrounded by a scrum of international news crews at the National Portrait Gallery where the work was revealed, described the duchess as a “wonderful subject” and “generous as a person.
“The brief was that it should be a portrait which in some way expressed her natural self rather than her official self,” he said.
“When you meet her, that really is appropriate. She really is that kind of a person. She’s so nice to be with and it’s genuine and I felt if the painting can convey something of that then it will have succeeded.”
National Portrait Gallery staff said the duchess and her husband, Prince William, visited earlier on Friday and were “very pleased” with the outcome of a painting based on photographs taken at two sittings in May and June last year.
“Her family are also very pleased,” Mr. Emsley said. “To me that’s the ultimate test in a way, because they know her better than anyone else.”
Public reaction was less positive, however, with views on Twitter and newspaper websites overwhelmingly negative.
Many comments focused on how the image had aged the duchess, herself a graduate in art history, while others took the artist to task for portraying her smiling slightly.
One Daily Mail reader from Canada summed up broader opinion in an unnamed comment.
“OMG, how awful! Rather than being overly flattering as many royal portraits are, this one is the extreme opposite. She’s barely recognizable! Poor Kate, forced to say she’s ‘thrilled’ when in all likelihood, she is as horrified as the rest of us.”
Sunday Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak called the portrait “pretty ordinary ... He [Mr. Emsley] made her look older than she is and her eyes don’t sparkle in the way that they do and there’s something rather dour about the face.”
Glasgow-born Emsley, whose previous commissions included former South African President Nelson Mandela, knew he would be in the public eye when taking on a subject of the duchess’s stature as a royal and global celebrity.
“It’s probably the most important portrait I’ll ever do, and when you realize that, you do start to think rather carefully about what you’re doing perhaps more than you usually do, and that made me more cautious than I normally am.”
The duchess has recently been in the headlines after spending four days in hospital being treated for acute morning sickness having announced she was pregnant.
The National Portrait Gallery commissioned the painting of its patron, and it was given to the gallery by Hugh Leggatt through the Art Fund.
Portrait gets mixed reviews
It’s just amazing, I thought it was brilliant. – Duchess of Cambridge
It’s beautiful, it’s absolutely beautiful. – Prince William
All sense of spontaneity is squashed by the unimaginative face-on pose …The result is an image which sacrifices both that sense of intimate literality or spontaneous life which its photo-realist style might have evoked to a determination to present instead a generic ‘girl next door’ cliché. – The Times chief art critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston
Pretty ordinary … He [Emsley] made her look older than she is and her eyes don’t sparkle in the way that they do and there’s something rather dour about the face. – Sunday Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak
How is it that she has been transformed into something unpleasant from the Twilight franchise? – Guardian chief arts writer Charlotte Higgins
Globe readers voiced their own opinions via Facebook:
Nice painting but not a representation of her spirit. – Karma Brophy
Smile! What smile? Looks like her lips are glued shut! – Joyce Parsons
Looks older and haggard –Alina Popkova
Enlarge it! She is alluring. – Joji Grace Lirag-Kyne
- compiled by Globe staff