Kate Middleton may have thought it “amazing” but her portrait sparked a backlash among art critics when it was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery yesterday.
Sandy Nairnie, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said it was a “captivating contemporary image.” The Independent’s art critic called it “catastrophic”.
He was not alone, one critic called the photo-realistic portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge “rotten,” another said the face was “dour” and a third that the Duchess had been transformed into “something unpleasant from the Twilight franchise”.
The gallery commissioned Paul Emsley, the winner of its BP Portrait Award in 2007, to carry out the first official painted portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge.
The Duchess, who attended a private viewing alongside her husband Prince William in the morning, sat twice for Elmsley last year. He also worked from photographs. She said yesterday: “It’s just amazing, I thought it was brilliant.”
Art historian Ben Street was less enamoured with the final picture: “I don’t think it is particularly successful, it’s quite middle of the road. It has a very soft focus, 70s porn look, which isn’t great.”
Emsley, who has also painted portraits of VS Naipaul and Nelson Mandela, said the Duchess wanted to be portrayed “naturally, her natural self, as opposed to her official self.”
The portrait was initially going to be unsmiling, but the artists changed his mind. “I think it was the right choice in the end to have her smiling; that is really who she is.”
Some thought the facial expression was not particularly successful. Mr Street said: “It looks like she’s smirking, like she’s pleased with herself. She looks like the cat who’s got the cream; which probably wasn’t the look the artist was going for.”
Elmsley has responded to some of the criticism in a BBC interview. When a reporter told him what The Independent's critic said about his work, the artist responded by saying: "Can Michael Glover draw?"