The first official painted portrait of The Duchess of Cambridge has been commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, where it was unveiled Friday 11 January 2013 after a private viewing from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The painting is now on display to the public in the Lerner Galleries, Room 36, Ground Floor (Admission free). The National Portrait Gallery’s painting of its Patron was commissioned by the Gallery, and given by Sir Hugh Leggatt, in memory of Sir Denis Mahon, through the Art Fund.
The Duchess was involved in the selection process, from which artist Paul Emsley, the 2007 winner of the Gallery’s BP Portrait Award competition, was chosen by Director Sandy Nairne to paint her official portrait. The Duchess took part in an initial meeting to talk through the process of the painting. This was followed by two sittings, in May and June 2012, at the artist’s studio in the West Country, England, and Kensington Palace. Emsley later made use of a series of photographs produced during the sittings. His subjects are frequently located against a dark background and emphasise ‘the singularity and silence of the form’, while utilising a meticulous technique of thin layers of oil paint and glazes.
Paul Emsley said: ‘The Duchess explained that she would like to be portrayed naturally – her natural self – as opposed to her official self. She struck me as enormously open and generous and a very warm person. After initially feeling it was going to be an unsmiling portrait I think it was the right choice in the end to have her smiling – that is really who she is.’ Following three-and-a-half months of painting, the completed portrait was presented to the Gallery’s Trustees at their November 2012 meeting.
Catherine Elizabeth Middleton, now The Duchess of Cambridge, was born in Berkshire and attended Marlborough College. The Duchess studied at the British Institute in Florence before enrolling at the University of St Andrews in Fife to study History of Art. She married Prince William of Wales at Westminster Abbey on 29 April 2011. In January 2012, St. James’s Palace announced The Duchess’s acceptance of five honorary positions, one of which was a Patronage of the National Portrait Gallery. Her first solo public engagement was the opening of its Lucian Freud Portraits exhibition and The Duchess has shown a keen interest in portraiture and photography.
Glasgow-born Paul Emsley (b.1947) grew up in South Africa before moving to England in 1996. He won first prize in the BP Portrait Award in 2007 for his striking large-scale study of the face of his neighbouring artist Michael Simpson. His previous commissions have included the author V S Naipaul (2009) and Nelson Mandela (2010). He is represented by the Redfern Gallery of London and is associated with Brundyn + Gonsalves Gallery in South Africa. (www.paulemsley.com)
Sandy Nairne, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, said: ‘It is an exciting moment to display the first commissioned public portrait of the National Portrait Gallery’s Patron, The Duchess of Cambridge. I am grateful to The Duchess for giving time for sittings, to Paul Emsley for creating such a captivating contemporary image, and to Sir Hugh Leggatt and the Art Fund for this gift.’
Stephen Deuchar, Director, the Art Fund, said: ‘The unveiling of a first official portrait of a royal sitter is always an important and intriguing moment, defining and enshrining their public image in a new way. We are delighted that Sir Hugh Leggatt chose to make this gift to the British public and the National Portrait Gallery through the Art Fund.’
Go to www.npg.org.uk to see a special film on the making of this portrait.