HRH deserves better than the oily-aproned brigade

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold

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TWO EYES, one on either side of the nose; a couple of lips, one above the other, with a mouth in between; one nose, placed squarely in the centre of the face; two ears, separated by one head; hair on top, chin down below, neck a little bit narrower than the face. Surely this handy cut-out-and-keep guide, free with every copy of this week's Independent on Sunday, could be sellotaped firmly to the palette of every modern painter, especially when he - or she! - is tackling the portrait of a leading member of the British Royal Family?

This week's effort at a portrait of Her Majesty by one of the beret-wearing fraternity was not, I suppose, quite as offensive as some in recent years. We must be grateful, in this day and age, that she had her full complement of limbs, that she did not have a leg coming out of her shoulder, and that her eyes were not popping out of her stomach. Nevertheless, Her Majesty's face was a terrible blur, rather as though that most gracious of ladies had been downing one too many pints of best bitter at the Old Bull and Bush the night before and had mislaid the Alka Seltzer. Is this really the best way we as a nation can think of honouring a woman who has already spent the last 10 years being driven to hell and back by The Duchess of York, The Princess of Wales, Prince Edward, Princess Michael, Princess Margaret, Major Ronald, Old Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all? Frankly, I think not.

The mind floods with memories of past crimes committed against our Royal Family by the oily aproned brigade. I will never forget the day I dropped in on my old friend and quaffing partner The Duke of Edinburgh way back in the early 1960s. He had recently scored some small S&A success in carriage competitions, and the horse-and-carriage association wished to commemorate his feats on their dining-room wall with a specially-commissioned portrait measuring 4ft by 6ft - just the right size to cover up the stain - sherry, shaving-foam, blood, a small amount of urine - on the far wall caused by rather too many high-spirits the previous New Year.

Alas, the dauber the association had chosen for the Duke's portrait was an up-and-coming young man who went by the doubly dubious name of Mr Lucien Freud. Of course, anyone with any knowledge of Grandfather Sigmund's work on the all-too-easy couch would have been sufficiently versed in the family's unreliable ways to sound a warning blast on the klaxon. But these were innocent days, and I was as ignorant as the next man of the tricks modern painters get up to when unleashed from their straitjackets.

As I sidled into Freud's messy studio, some sixth sense told me that things were not as they should be. For one thing, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was modelling entirely in the nude. For another, his bottom was placed full-square on a particularly vicious-looking cactus. "Philip!" I exclaimed as the full horror of the scene began to sink in, "Philip! What on earth have they done to you?"

Somewhat to my surprise, the Duke seemed to be taking it in his stride (quite literally, from where I was standing). "I'm posing for my portrait, Wallace" he explained, "Nudes with cactuses are all the rage! The Queen Mum's having one done for her next birthday, bless her!" But when the portrait was finally unveiled in a short ceremony attended by many of the leading lights of the London art-world, one's worst fears had asserted themselves: The Duke was pictured posing not only full-frontally naked sitting on an outsize cactus, but beside him the "artist" (and I use the term lightly!) had added a vast 25-stone nude woman, her birthday-suit laden with what one can only describe as the very obscenest of tattoos. The Duke was visibly displeased, and never posed naked for a painter again. In fact, for many years he was unable to enter a room that contained a cactus or, indeed, a houseplant of any sort.

There have been other instances over the past few years of the Royal Family failing foul of the Great British Painter. I shudder to recall the lack of reverence vouchsafed to HRH Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips on the occasion of their Royal Wedding Portrait by a Mr Francis Bacon. When I popped my head around the studio door on that bleak autumn morning in 1974, I was horrified to see that Captain Phillips was being asked to pose with a shoulder of pork balanced precariously on his head, whilst the Princess Royal, completely starkers save for her Wedding Coronet, was screaming her head off in a corner, surrounded by a selection of blood-stained bayonets. Small wonder that the marriage failed to survive its second decade. God willing, Her Majesty will recover from this week's monstrosity, but with what damage, one wonders, to her mental well-being?

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