THE Duchess of Cambridge came face to face with her first official portrait yesterday and described it as “amazing”.
The award-winning Glasgow-born artist Paul Emsley created the head and shoulders painting of the duchess, set against his trademark dark background.
Art critics gave the portrait, which was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, mixed reviews, but its subject appeared delighted with the result which she wanted to capture her natural, not official, persona.
After studying the portrait for about ten minutes during a private view at the gallery in London yesterday, the duchess, who studied for an art history degree at St Andrews University, told Emsley: “It’s just amazing. I thought it was brilliant.”
Prince William, who accompanied his wife, agreed, saying: “It’s beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
But critics were less generous, with some calling it “brave” and others claiming the duchess’s face looks “dour”.
Emsley, 65, who won the 2007 BP Portrait Award, told reporters at the public unveiling that it was always going to be tough painting the duchess, who sat for the portrait last year, before she became pregnant.
Emsley, who was born in Glasgow but grew up in South Africa, has painted Nelson Mandela, again set against a dark background. He has also painted the author VS Naipaul.
He said: “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.”
Britain’s most prolific royal portrait artist, Richard Stone, said the work by Emsley had captured the duchess’s approachability.
He said: “I liked it, very much so. So often with official portraits they can be rather stiff and starchy, but this has a lovely informality about it, and a warmth to it.
“It was jolly brave of him to paint it well over life size, because that’s extremely difficult. He seems to have pulled it off very well.”
Alastair Adams, president of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, said Emsley had fulfilled his difficult brief of showing the duchess’s natural side.
Adams, who is a lecturer and researcher at Loughborough University and works as a commissioned portrait painter, said: “It’s very human – when you look at it, the full face is in front of you. You look straight into the eyes and face.
“There are no airs and graces, there’s no background context to allude to success or power – it’s very much on a level of one-to-one with the viewer. It’s quite natural. It’s open, it’s straightforward and very pure. It’s immediate and not overly sentimental.”
But art critic Waldemar Januszczak said that he was “disappointed”.
He added: “I think she’s been let down really by the picture.
“In the end it’s yet another pretty ordinary painting of a royal of the sort that we’ve been really churning out for the last few hundred years in Britain.”
He added: “It made her look sort of older than she is and her eyes don’t sparkle in the way that they do.
“There’s something rather dour about the face.”