Well, what can we say about the new official portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge, just unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery (and on the Internet, too) to the consternation of many? In it, Kate looks a bit peaked, rheumy-eyed, and wrinkled. Her hair seems strangely mousy. She looks older than her years, and almost as if she'd been sucking on a bit of lemon. She also has something of a Harry Potter quality, in my opinion, as if she's floating up from the beyond, ghostlike, ready to give the password to let us into whatever house we belong to so that we can drink our butterbeer in peace. Indeed, the general consensus of the Internet (great judges of art, as everything else) seems to be NOT GOOD:
One year ago, we wouldn't have been able to describe Kate Middleton's official portrait as "Potato Jesus-esque." *shudder*— Josh Kurp (@JoshKurp) January 11, 2013
Kate said during the visit she liked the portrait, but was there some staffer who had to brace her for what she was going to see?— Elizabeth Holmes (@EHolmesWSJ) January 11, 2013
Kate herself is far too proper to say anything rude about the painting (which she sat for twice; for the record, that top she's wearing was "invented" by the artist, Paul Emsley), so we may never know how she truly feels. According to The Telegraph, she pronounced it "amazing" and "brilliant" at a private viewing, arranged before the masses got a glimpse of the art. William added, "It's beautiful, it's absolutely beautiful." Then, we can imagine, they ran from the room and had a good laugh. Or maybe not! Maybe royal eyesight is not the same as commoner vision!
Then again, maybe they really do just like the portrait, or think it's better than what they might have ended up with. Apparently, per Kim Hookem-Smith, writing for Yahoo Lifestyle, "The choice of Emsley as the artist was questioned initially, as he is known for painting ‘warts-and-all’ portraits. And while it’s known that Kate wants to been seen as naturally as possible, the image is rather more flattering than some of Emsley’s other subjects." That painting at right, for instance, is his Sir V. S. Naipaul. Art note: At first Emsley wasn't going to portray the Duchess with a smile, but he changed his mind after meeting her. From People magazine, the challenge was that Middleton was too "lovely": "If you are working with someone who has whose face is just a lovely face, it's harder to find something in the portrait that gives it some sort of gravitas. In this case I've tried to do that with the smile and the dimples and the shadows around the face," he said.
But portraits ... aren't they generally rather weird, antiquated things in general? Check out this painting of Diana done by Bryan Organ in 1981, which is also in London's National Portrait Gallery:
Kate's portrait, while perhaps not to the tastes of all, does sort of look better if you give it some room to breathe. It's kind of like a Monet, that way.
Fun fact: This portrait is, for the moment, housed in the same gallery as a rendering of a nude David Beckham.
Image above via AP Photo/Sang Tan.