Saturday, January 12, 2013

Paul Emsley and the Duchess of Cambridge - two videos and a drawing

Many people have commented on Paul Emsley's portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge.

HRH The Duchess of Cambridge
By Paul Emsley (b.1947)
Oil on canvas, 2012
1152 x 965 (45 3/8 x 38)
NPG 6956 © National Portrait Gallery, London; 
A National Portrait Gallery commission 
given by Sir Hugh Leggatt in memory of Sir Denis Mahon 
through the Art Fund
Below you can view two videos about the portrait and the portraiture process.

  • The first is a video available via TheRoyalfamily channel on YouTube or the NPG website.  In this one Paul Emsley explains the process used for the portrait and shows the photos he worked from.
  • The second was created by the Art Fund who helped fund the portrait commission.

For me both videos provide a much better picture of the portrait than that seen in many of the photos.

I'm now wondering how many of those who wrote about the portrait did so from the photographs rather than the videos.  (I do hope the NPG will replace their "for use on a website" image - see right - which has completely lost the colour which is so evident in the videos).

Can I recommend that both videos are viewed full screen as they provide a much better appreciation of the portrait - in which she does not look old!

The first portrait of The Duchess of Cambridge

The first video shows us:
  • the relative scale of the portrait
  • the photos Paul Emsley worked from
  • the way he worked - and the glazing in thin oils
We also hear more about a very important concept behind the portrait - about how the Duchess of Cambridge wanted a natural portrait and NOT one which showed her "on parade", as it were, in her formal and official role. 
"The Duchess explained that she would like to be portrayed naturally - her natural self - as opposed to her official self. She struck me as enormously open and generous and a very warm person. After initially feeling it was going to be an unsmiling portrait I think it was the right choice in the end to have her smiling - that is really who she is."
It strikes me that this decision shows us a woman with her own independence of mind - and it may well be that people will come to like this portrait very much more in the years to come.

The painting was created in May and June 201 from two sittings at Kensington Palace and at the artist's studio in the West Country, England, and Kensington Palace - and from photographs.

As always you can't beat seeing the painting in person and you can do that by visiting the National Portrait Gallery in London where it is now on display as part of the Contemporary Collections in the Lerner Galleries, Room 36, Ground Floor, National Portrait Gallery (Admission free)
The National Portrait Gallery’s painting of its Patron was commissioned by the Gallery, and given by Sir Hugh Leggatt, in memory of Sir Denis Mahon, through the Art Fund.  The Duchess was involved in the selection process, from which artist Paul Emsley, the 2007 winner of the Gallery’s BP Portrait Award competition, was chosen by Director Sandy Nairne to paint her official portrait.

The Art Fund Video

Below you can view a video created by The Art Fund which further explains the portrait - although it gets a little overblown in my view.

The basic point though that this is a portrait of a new Duchess at the beginning of her 'royal career' in which she will be painted again and again in a much more 'royal' way in a very good one - and one which a lot of people missed who commented on this portrait on Friday.

A titular 'faux pas'?

I'm greatly intrigued by the fact that both videos are referring to the portrait as "Katherine, Duchess of Cambridge" which is a term usually used for a divorced Duchess(!) - and I beg to refer both to Burke's Peerage on this topic!  (Readers may recall "Diana, Princess of Wales" as the title she assumed only after her divorce).

A drawing of 'Katherine'

I may be completely wrong about this. I was also greatly intrigued by a charcoal drawing of a young lady called Katherine on Paul Emsley's website.  To my mind this bore a considerable resemblance to photographs of a younger Katherine Middleton.

It made me wonder whether this was actually the first time she had sat for Paul Emsley - or whether she was a little more familiar with the work of this artist.

Links: Two more Making A Mark posts about Paul Emsley

Note: Glasgow-born Paul Emsley (b.1947) grew up in South Africa before moving to England in 1996. He won first prize in the BP Portrait Award in 2007 for his striking large-scale study of the face of his neighbouring artist Michael Simpson. His previous commissions have included the author V S Naipaul (2009) and Nelson Mandela (2010). He is represented by the Redfern Gallery of London and is associated with Brundyn + Gonsalves Gallery in South Africa. (

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