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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Awkward Family Portraits

Portraits of HRH Queen Elizabeth (2010), HRH Prince Charles (1998) and HRH Prince Philip (1998). Rupert Alexander managed to make them look like three troubled executives from a not-too-reputable family business.
Much hay was made over the remarkable resemblance of Paul Emsley’s Kate, Duchess of Cambridge to the Breck Girls, but it is by no means the worst of this generation of royal portraits.

Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, 2013, by Paul Emsley
There is a wealth of brilliant portraiture of British monarchs from Owain Glynd┼Ár on.The current regime has been painted as frequently as any royal family, but the results are generally mediocre.

Queen Elizabeth II, 2001 was apparently more about Lucian Freud's inner man than the Queen's. Or at least about his Five O'Clock Shadow.
Anthony Van Dyke expressed Charles I’s sovereignty through his natural mastery of both the gentlemanly and kingly virtues. Hans Holbein the Younger used luxurious clothing, posture and symbols to assert the kingship of Henry VIII. The modern portrait artist eschews props, and seeks to say something about the inner man. But when the inner man is subservient to the public man (as in the case of monarchy), that idea seems to fail.

Portrait of William and Harry in the dress uniform of the Household Cavalry by Nicky Philipps, 2009, strikes the right balance between their public image and their formal roles. 
There are a few exceptions to this. Portrait of William and Harry in the dress uniform of the Household Cavalry by Nicky Philipps strikes the right balance between the princes’ formal roles and their public images. It is casual and yet respectful, and it will further the narrative of the Handsome Young Princes long after they are middle-aged men.

Duke of Edinburgh, 2002, by Richard Stone.
Richard Stone’s Duke of Edinburgh hearkens back to earlier virtues in its iconic pose and unapologetic chest full of medals. Jeff Stultiens’ immense portrait of the queen gives her the dignity of rank.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for Oriel College, Oxford, 2003, by Jeff Stultiens
But the best portrait among them is amateur, gawky and surprisingly lovely: it’s by the Duke of Edinburgh and depicts the Queen reading the paper at the breakfast table. She is neither part of her surroundings nor overwhelmed by them; she is just doing her job. Of all her portraits, it’s the only one in which she looks comfortable in her own skin.

Her Majesty the Queen at Breakfast, 1957, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

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