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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I don't know art but I knows what me likes - a defense of the Kate Middleton portrait

Critics divided over Duchess of Cambridge portrait
The Duchess of Cambridge seems to like her first official portrait, which is lucky for the artist. Many critics don't.

Paul Emsley's portrait of the former Kate Middleton shows the 31-year-old royal against a dark background, her lips pursed into a wry smile, with an ethereal light against her face and hair. Her pale complexion brings out the fine lines under the eyes, and the light adds a hint of silver to her rich brown hair.

Shortly after the portrait was unveiled Friday at the National Portrait Gallery in London, critics began grousing.

"It's a great, great opportunity missed," British Art Journal editor Robin Simon said. "The best thing you can say about it is that she doesn't actually look like that."

In a telephone interview, Simon said that Kate's nose was too large and that the painting drained the duchess of her sparkle.

Kate "transmits a sense of joie-de-vivre," he said. "This is dead, dead, dead.

I'm the first to admit that I don't 'know' art. I only took Art History at school because all the really attractive alternative artsy girls took it meaning the finer points of chiaroscuro totally escapes me, but I know whats I like and me likes this new portrait of Kate Middleton.

In an age where every cell phone doubles as a camera, technology allows us the deception that we are all great photographers. The real art of portraits is to capture a truth of the subject and beyond the vanity of claims she looks too old and plump without pop, I would argue the artist has done a fascinating job of capturing a truth about Kate Middleton that will stretch well beyond the contemporary criticism.

I suppose from the outside being a Royal looks pretty attractive. The pageantry, the pomp, the circumstance, the hob-knobbing with celebrities, the Vegas hotel parties with naked beautiful people, it just sounds peachy. I suspect however that beyond the forced smiles and constant inane polite chit chat that the role isn't any more than a golden chain imprisoning you until death.

I think the artist has captured the impending doom in Kate's eyes perfectly as she contemplates a life term from a sentence she can never end. The grim reality of what she has been married into brings a stern aging that mutes her youth.

Paul Emsley painted the smile in at the end. Perhaps he realized the truth he had exposed in Kate was too bleak in a facebook like culture?

I think Emsley saw another side to Kate, a reality we don't like and don't want to appreciate in a celebrity sparkle world of fake tans and manufactured smiles. Emsley captures a young women greying as we watch as the enormity of the stern and mountainous responsibility she has been forced into grows on her with every pressing second. She faces such ominous weight with a tight disciplined smile that cements her determination into a formidable facade with every inch of authority Queen Elizabeth herself has managed throughout her reign.

That, or Emsley could just be a crap artist who can't paint for shit.

Beauty and truth is in the eye of the beholder.



At 15/1/13 9:41 am, Blogger tarere thatcher said...

I think you've chosen to write what you assume to know about being royalty. I like the portrait too, yes for some of the points you have considered because I have considered them too. but we can never really know what it's like up there because we've never sat where she is. I think you assume too much. Something we all like to do, just like we assume to be great photographers behind our i-Phones.

At 15/1/13 10:25 am, Blogger Fern said...

I'm inclined to agree with you, Bomber. My first thought, before reading anyone else's opinion, was "He's painted her mother." But I later realised that he had captured what you call "the impending doom".
(I don't know anything about art either.)

At 15/1/13 12:11 pm, Blogger Alex said...

I also like this painting, because I think it captures the role a royal plays in society today. Back in the days of authoritarian monarchs they would be painted with their crowns, scepters and symbols of political power, but thats not how we think of the monarchy these days.

We most often see royals in tabloids and soft news, their projected media image is of someone we know intimately. This painting reflects this, as it is essentially a disembodied face which is universally known, and which so many have invested so much meaning in. Middleton is painted as a close friend of the viewer, a fallacy of course but that is the world we live in.

I like your more subversive take on it too though.

At 15/1/13 4:05 pm, Blogger Dr Syn said...

All it honestly need is to brighten up the skin tone. It's a bit too washed out.

At 16/1/13 8:45 pm, Blogger f dx said...

She looks somewhat stoned.


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