Royal portraiture, what place in the 21st century?
This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.
The latest royal portrait, the first of our royal Kate, by Elmsey, Glasgow-born, South Africa-reared and winner of the 2007 BP portrait prize, has provoked a sea of negative comments, as well as defensive repostes. See the Guardian on the subject. The debate is interesting on a number of counts. Do we really expect a royal portrait to tell us anything profound about the royal subject, indeed, IS there anything profound such an image could tell us about her? Waldemar Janusek’s most useful criticism of the work pointed to the fact that there hasn’t really been any really excellent royal portraiture since the 17th century.
Dismay at the image has focussed on the failure to capture Kate’s beauty. Rather, I would have thought, focus should have been on the blandness of the image. On this, though, I picked up a comment by Katherine Tyrell, who writes a popular blog Making a Mark, about the photograph of the image that has been circulating. This is what she says:
‘Paul Emsley (sic: the painter of the image) has now written to me having heard about the views I was expressing about his painting of the Duchess and my comments on the photography. He’s sent me a photograph of his painting of The Duchess of Cambridge. I can confirm that it looks nothing like the one which has been circulating in the newspapers and on the Internet. The one I’m looking at has much better colour and the transitions on tonal values are much more subtle and very much more like what I’m accustomed to seeing in Paul’s work. Which means that in the real painting she does NOT look old or drained or a vampire or a gothic horror or any of the other really nasty and mean-spirited remarks which have been made about this painting. To me this new photo indicates that the problem with the image people have seen lies entirely with the photographer and NOT the artist.’
Perhaps its wise to stand aside from media chatter and save our judgement of the image until we see it in the flesh. This story reminds me of the difficulty of photographing art work well enough to do it justice.