The Royal portraits are a long-standing unwritten tradition of the British Royal Family. The Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine’s royal portrait was unveiled on January 11, 2013, at the National Portrait Gallery of London.
The oil painting was painted by Award Winning British Artist Paul Emsley. The portrait was commissioned by and given to the National Portrait Gallery by Sir Hugh Leggatt in memory of Sir Denis Mahon through the Art Fund, 2012.
Catherine, who herself has a keen interest in Art and graduated from St. Andrews University in History of Arts, selected Paul Emsley from the shortlisted candidates to do her first official portrait in 2012 after announcing her patronage to National Portrait Gallery.
Award-winning artist Emsley took 15 weeks to complete the painting. He had two sittings with The Duchess. First a day’s session in May at his studio in Bradford-upon-Avon and then a brief session in June at Kensington Palace.
During the second session, he did quick drawings and took more photographs and later on used those photographs to finish the portrait. He found Duchess quite amenable during the sitting sessions.
Emsley presented the portrait to the trustees of the gallery in November 2012 and since then the portrait is on permanent display in Room 37 and now in Room 39 of National Portrait Gallery in Contemporary collections.
“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 that it was going to be an unsmiling portrait later on Paul decided it was the right choice in the end to have her smiling – “that is really who she is”, he said.
Reminiscing his emotions, Paul said initially he was thrilled to receive the commission but later on, he realized the importance of portrait – not just for him but for others also, so he was slightly nervous.
He was keen to capture Catherine’s “charm, serenity and intelligence and sparkling green eyes”.
The portrait features a background of dark blue hue matching with The Duchess’ dark blue pussy-bow blouse.
Paul darkened the colour of Catherine’s eyes slightly to match her tunic and capture the rich texture of her hair. “Everyone, I think, recognises her partly through her lovely hair,” he said.
The portrait shows slightly smiling Catherine looking straight out of it. Paul decided not to use any background grandeur presenting her royal role.
Illuminations were commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to make a short film with the artist Paul Emsley working in his studio on his painting of the Duchess of Cambridge in November 2012.
The Duchess of Cambridge saw the portrait first time at a family gathering and immediately liked it. She remarked, “I thought it was brilliant. It’s just amazing. Absolutely brilliant“. She specifically liked how Paul captured her mouth and nose.
Contrary to The Duchess’ praise, most of the reception of the portrait was negative some calling it horrible and catastrophic. Many renowned art critics criticized the portrait declaring that it lacks context. Despite its mixed critical reception, The Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William were believed to be delighted with the painting.
I personally like the portrait very much. I am not an artist so cannot go into the details of the artistic sphere, but I believe that it portraits Catherine’s persona perfectly. There were no royal pomps in the background to overshadow the portrait. It’s simply Catherine. When you look at the portrait you are looking at the person herself only.
The slight smirk on the face and twinkling eyes, it might not be a portrait of the then newlywed Princess but it is definitely a portrait of Future Queen who knows the importance of her position, values and respects that position. A regal piece of art exuding contemporary culture while keeping the regalness of history.
The seriousness of the portrait might not be appealing to many but it strongly captures the future role of Catherine as Prince William’s Queen Consort. Because the portrait showcases the image that any Queen would like to present that is why I believe Duchess truly like or possibly love her first official royal portrait.