Michael Glover: Paul Emsley's Duchess of Cambridge portrait is catastrophic

The first official portrait makes Kate Middleton's cheeks look hamsterish, and her face saggy and a touch dropsical, writes Michael Glover

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The Independent Culture

Photographic realism is much more difficult than it always seems. It is rather as if the painter is envious of the so called truth-telling powers of photography, and that if he can do at least as well as the photographer, he deserves to be mightily pleased with himself. For, after all, is he not a hand rather than a machine?

Unfortunately, there is also the downside to such an approach. If he or she gets it slightly wrong, as has happened here, the results can be catastrophic.

This is a painting which is striving to be a perfect likeness of a photograph of a woman of conventional good looks who has been co-opted into the royal family from some barbarian northern outpost by dint of marriage.

Unlike, say, the portraits of a great royal likeness-maker such as Antony Van Dyke, it is not even trying to flatter. Flattery requires dexterity, subtlety, an ability to play with an image and its context.

There is no context here – no map, no skull, no heraldic mace - little other than a face. It is a face which is beginning to look just a touch dropsical.

It sags a little, ageing it needlessly. The cheeks incline towards the hamsterish. And what of this - ah! - hair? It is hair whose featheriness has been borrowed from an advert for shampoo. It is an image which also seems to be emerging (striding towards us perhaps, hair gently bouncing) from some slightly misty otherwhere, an unsmiling gift to a nation under the Coalition's almighty cosh.

Perhaps just a hint of teeth - that promise of pearly breath beyond the lip gloss - would have improved it. Slightly.