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Wednesday, 23 January 2013


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Ok, and the other half?

An artists blog I read from time to time (found via reviews of the Taylor Wessing Portrait prize) opened with pretty much the same premise: http://makingamark.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/the-duchess-of-cambridge-official-portrait-my-verdict.html

"I believe half the problem is the portrait doesn't photograph well..."
Well, Lucian Freud never used that excuse.

There's been a lot of comment about her mouth, but if you cover the top half of the painting with your hand, it's not that bad. If you cover the bottom half of the photo, you see that there's something wrong at the eye level. There's something too wide and harsh about the top of her nose...the bridge of her nose, shown in most photos, is quite rounded, but in the painting, it's ramp-like; and that makes her eyes look too small. The painting also looks as though the artist put a glaze over it, in an effort to soften it, but the glaze created a milky cast, so it looks unfocused.

The other possibility is that the artist's seeing something that we're not: she's actually the evil Visitor Queen.

The photo of the Duchess with Emsley illustrating the article gets her beauty better than the painting.

An essential difference between a painter and a photographer is that the painter can make the painting look anyway he wants it to look. Photographers, as we know, have to deal somewhat with reality.

Emsley portrayed the Duchess in a way that we as her admirers feel does not do her justice. Our critical reaction is only a reflection of what we consider a slight to her beauty.

What they need is take a 8x10 or even a 20x24 film photos and just post the photo bit. So much better ... Of course this is a photographer blog not an oil painter blog.

1) Most paintings don't photograph well, maybe all of them. Photography pretty much obliterates any sense of scale , surface, detail or presence.

2) It's kind of hard to tell if this is a slavish copy of a photograph or an ironic postmodern comment on slavish copies

Seeing the portraits side by side, I think the artist screwed up the proportions of the face and it ain't the photography.

The side-by-side view confirms what I said in the first post, i.e. that the distances between the landmarks are all wrong. The vertical dimensions are egregious.

It's helpful to know what makes photographic subjects attractive or otherwise, and it's interesting that Kate is widely regarded as pretty when her face is asymmetric: when tests are done with statistically significant populations ladies with symmetric faces are regarded as the most attractive (think of "supermodels"). Personally, I find that supermodels and their ilk seem synthetic, and I like subjects that have the character given by "imperfections".

Emsley is wrong. His garish portrait is thinly painted, utterly lacking in texture or surface variation. No, it photographs perfectly. It's just badly painted. Not that it matters, this kind of portraiture being devoid of any artistry whatsoever. If it must be done, hire one of the handful of serious portrait artists still working. There are very few.

I know well the Don Bachardy portrait of Jerry Brown that hangs in the California State Capitol. When unveiled over thirty years ago it caused a minor scandal, with old pharts proclaiming it undignified, unsuitable for Brown's official portrait, and that it looked as if someone had pelted it with tomatoes. Yes, it does, but in a lively way that makes the portraits around it look worse (if that's possible.) It's not even one of Bachardy's masterpieces, but it's energetic, captures Brown's quirky style, and is still popular, the only portrait in the collection anyone seeks out.

This short background piece is worth a watch:


The artist speaks on the process, intent and source material while painting the portrait.

Sorry, she looks like a sales clerk accepting a return.

The side-by-side also confirms that the photo just isn't a great picture of her to start from. One of the worst I've seen.

I believe half the problem is that the original photograph is better than the painting derived from it. And he added sleeves.

Maybe, it reflects her perfectly. She is absolutely uninteresting in anyway other than as someone who married into royalty. Exactly like her painting...

I'm reminded of Ctein's article titled "No One Cares How Hard You Worked".

The gyrations that the artist is going through is the artsy way of saying "it's the viewer's fault that he/she doesn't like it."

Even after his explanation and every attempt to show empathy, I keep coming back to the realization that I think the portrait is bad on so many levels. How he took a poorly photographed "snapshot" and made it worse is beyond excuse. She looks like an evil step-mother in a Disney animated film. If it was his intent to make her look like the evil step-mother then he succeded. That just may be what he was trying to do.

But to sweep away that the mass criticism in the manner he did tells me that he just got too close to the project to see it objectively.

The original photograph is not a good one at all. It was a bad setting with bad lighting. And Kate looks as though she stayed up all night drinking. There is nothing remarkable about the moment.

The painting, while faithful to the photograph down to the blemishes, has a kind of oil-on-astroturf look.

This was not a successful collaboration all around. Yet I know they are going to sell a million of 'em.

Natasha,...obviously you have never met her. If you had you would have been 'struck' by her quite unusual 'presence' and shining strength of character which is entirely missing in the painting and which is mentioned by all who meet her. She is NOT in the least ordinary,...not as facially 'beautiful' as people claim,..the 'beauty' just shines out of her from somewhere within despite her initial shyness which hides an irrepressible sense of fun and humour.

The poor guy's brushes are not calibrated properly. The blues come out all grey. That's probably all that's wrong with the portrait ...

Over Christmas I accidentally saw the original on the wall of the National Portrait gallery. Like almost everyone else I didn't like the rendering that appeared in the press. My initial impression of the painting itself was very similar, but I stuck around for a while.

Despite the steady parade of people stopping by and complaining about it, the painting steadily grew on me as the subtleties of it sank in. After a while I was left with the impression of depth of character that I would love to meet. I've always enjoyed the delightful woman that she is in the usual media coverage, but I'm glad to see there is alot more there.

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