Bradford on Avon artist unveils portrait of Duchess of Cambridge
A Bradford on Avon artist has become the first to paint an officially commissioned portrait of the future Queen of England – but the finished work by Paul Emsley has stirred a minor storm of controversy.
The award-winning portrait artist, who has sketched everyone from one of his mates to Nelson Mandela, is South African, but works from Bradford on Avon.
He was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to paint the Duchess of Cambridge, and she and the Duke had a private viewing of the portrait yesterday before they met with Mr Emsley, his wife Susanne and daughter Marie, and the painting was unveiled publicly.
The Wiltshire artist caused a minor ruffle in the art world a couple of years ago when he won a major portrait prize award for a painting of a fellow artist, which he undertook solely from photographs, the subject having not had the time to meet the artist.
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His latest painting has also divided experts, with Richard Stone, Britain’s most prolific royal portrait artist, saying the work had captured Kate’s evident warmth and approachability, but art critic Waldemar Januszczak saying he was “disappointed” by the portrait and that there was a lack of sparkle in Kate’s eyes.
The Duchess described her portrait as ‘amazing’, and added that she did sit for Mr Emsley twice.
At the launch yesterday, Kate smiled as she chatted to the artist.
She told him: “It’s just amazing, I thought it was brilliant.”
William also had high praise for the painting, saying: “It’s beautiful, it’s absolutely beautiful.”
Asked what Kate, who has a history of art degree, thought of it, Mr Emsley said: “I think, from what I can see this morning, she’s delighted with it. I’m very happy about that.
“I was delighted to get the commission and then after that it began to sink in to me how important this would be. A person whose image is so pervasive, for an artist it is really difficult to go beyond that and find something which is original – you have to rely on your technique and your artistic instincts to do that and I hope I’ve succeeded.
“In discussions it became clear that what she wanted herself, and I was very happy with that, was that the portrait should convey her natural self as opposed to her official self.
“In the sessions of photography from which I worked, I was always aware of the fact that we would use the hair very much as a kind of frame for the face, and not too much in the way of jewellery, other than the earring, to try to create something of her natural warmth, her natural serenity.
“The fact she is a beautiful woman is for an artist difficult. In the end I think what I tried to do really was to convey something about her warmth and her smile. Any artist will tell you doing a smiling portrait is not at all easy so that was difficult,” he added.