Royals’ portraits vary with popular culture of the timesThe brouhaha over the official portrait of Prince William’s lovely bride Kate fizzled dramatically once her pregnancy was announced. Critics couldn’t shut their mouths, both literally and figuratively, when the brunette beauty’s somber likeness was unveiled at the first of the year.
By: Sharon Cox, , The Jamestown Sun
The brouhaha over the official portrait of Prince William’s lovely bride Kate fizzled dramatically once her pregnancy was announced. Critics couldn’t shut their mouths, both literally and figuratively, when the brunette beauty’s somber likeness was unveiled at the first of the year.
“Too old-looking,” they said, and “too matronly,” “lines in her face,” “too dark and colorless.” The comments piled into what would have been an artistic assassination of the portraitist had those Aussie callers not played a trick on the London hospital receptionist.
They played a horrible dupe bypassing security where Kate was being treated for severe morning sickness. A nurse’s death ended comments about the painting.
Talk about a shocking way to silence an art critic. But criticize they will, always have.
Official portraits of Diana, Princess of Wales, showed her in bright lights, full color, and almost always emphasized her enhanced blonde hair, lovely face and figure. She was photogenic and the camera loved her. So did the official portrait painters. Color and light, that down-cast head and upshot eyes gave her paintings a shy and almost child-like appearance.
Kate came into the family two decades later and the choice of background for the raven-haired lovely is dark, without light or form. Her portrait echoes popular culture of the times, as Diana’s reflected the 1980s and ’90s.
Looking back on British royal portraits, each one reflected the era at its most proper, if not staid culture. Since the time of Queen Victoria, photography made the likeness unquestionable, whether short or tall, thin or thick, the camera didn’t lie. Earlier portraiture, done with tempera and oil paints, projected an image thought proper, or desired. Elizabeth I was a lovely, fragile-looking girl portrayed as women of her era were expected to be: like a dolled-up waif.
Henry XIII wore his position as jewels on his barrel chest and porcine head. He was extra heavy and wanted that image projected, because it showed how powerful he was. He wanted to project an image of absolute control. Luxurious fabrics and styles of the time attested to his wealth and power. So did a full stomach.
In the official Jubilee portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, the queen wears what looks like a man’s blue cape and a sash covered with metals befitting a military officer. Yet her crown and dress speak womanliness, even if her silver hair speaks her age. She is shown without sags or bloat, and she expresses a slight smile beneath a stern, “mother rules” clinch of her jaw.
And it is the jaw that partly set off critics of Princess Kate’s painted portrait. It is dimpled and youthful, but the viewer can almost feel the teeth clinching under the skin, though no teeth show. Kate’s bright eyes look outward, but not like Diana’s eyes looked out. Diana’s vulnerable eyes spoke to the viewers, asking for help. Kate’s beautiful eyes seem accepting without question. Her head is held high and her lids shaded as she looks out at the viewer … the artist. It is not, however, a Diana-style glamour shot.
Court painters have always tried to capture their sitters’ faces and posture, but sitting for art is tiring and most quickly weary of it and their faces reveal how they feel. It’s only natural that the artist reads that face, that weary expression, that exhausted royal, who simply wishes to be through with it all. Many times a tired expression is caught by the painter’s brush or a camera’s lens.
Few royals were blessed with the beauty of Princess Grace of Monaco or even Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowden.
The lovely Kate seeks her own level as she carries the next generation’s heir to the throne. It will be interesting to compare her first “mother of the king or queen” portrait to Diana’s portrait showing the young princess with the infant William in her arms. Hopefully it will not have such an ominous overtone.
If anyone has an item for this column, please send to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.