Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


These are the Queen's hands

Antony Williams replies to the critics of his new royal portrait
I was surprised by the strength and the character of the comment that greeted the unveiling of my new portrait of the Queen. I simply didn't anticipate such a tirade of abuse, especially from some of the critics. I was particularly taken aback by Brian Sewell's comments, and somewhat hurt by them. Initially, I wondered if I'd got the painting wrong, but there has been quite a lot of support from other artists and critics. If it had all been negative, I would have taken it more seriously.

Brian Sewell wrote that "the Queen is not an ordinary woman ... and she deserves better than to be perpetuated as an old age pensioner about to lose her home". By contrast, WF Deedes, praising my work, thinks that I "sought to remind the Queen's subjects of how life has been for her in the last year or so". In fact, I wasn't setting out to make any sort of statement. I was just trying to make a portrait in the way I'd approach any painting.

I had six sittings with the Queen, of up to 90 minutes each, but the painting took about three months to complete. I did a lot of work in the studio from sketches and photographs that I had made. I recorded everything, from the background to her hands. My depiction of the Queen's hands has come in for the most criticism, but this over-emphasis on her hands is irritating. It is a minor detail and the critics are losing sight of the whole work. How can you make a real judgement just from the hands?

Lord St John of Fawsley says they are not the Queen's hands, but they are. They were like that! There is some exaggeration, because you're not painting a photograph. A painting is transformed actuality. They are paintings of hands - not real hands - a mixture of my own impressions, my mental notes, my sketches, how the light was falling, a distillation of several visits.

My portrait is an honest painting of the Queen, but it is not honest to the visual accuracy only: it is more than that. It is honest to the process of painting. Although there should be a likeness to what you are representing in a portrait, you must also be be truthful to what the person is. It is not a conscious interpretation, and despite what the critics say, I am not trying to make a statement about monarchy.

I am not a republican and I am not a pro-monarchist. Like a lot of people, I have mixed feelings. The idea of a monarchy in a democracy is at odds with itself, but there is a strong sense of tradition regarding the monarchy which I share too. I wasn't trying to make a point in any way. It was just a painting. I was employed to produce a portrait and that's what I did.

The writer was judged best young portraitist of 1995 by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.