Reactor

Another Royal Portrait That Was the Subject of Controversy Sees the Light of Day

by Hrag Vartanian on January 18, 2013

Left, John Napper's portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (1956) (Telegraph) and right, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, official portrait by artist Paul Emsley. (Photograph: NPG/Rex Features)

Left, John Napper’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (1956) (Telegraph) and right, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, official portrait by artist Paul Emsley. (Photograph: NPG/Rex Features)

Less than a week after the art world went into practical meltdown mode over Paul Emsley‘s portrait of Kate Middleton, the British Duchess of Cambridge, a controversial 1953 portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by artist John Napper was carted out after decades in storage. Why now? Well they claim it is to celebrate the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee, but one wonders if it is also to deflect attention away from the Middleton artwork and perhaps a subtle way to remind people that many royal portraits don’t turn out all that great, particularly the early ones.

A blown up detail of the painting of Queen Elizabeth II that is on display again.

A blown up detail of the painting of Queen Elizabeth II that is on display again.

The 60-year-old painting, which was one of the first official paintings of Queen Elizabeth II, was universally rejected, even the artist (yes, the artist) famously said that it was “a beautiful painting of a queen, but not this Queen.” Ouch.

The artist died in 2001 but The Telegraph spoke to his widow, and she had this to say about the unfortunate portrait that has been trotted out again:

 “I remember the painting well. He was disappointed with the angle at which he painted it, he only had one sitting … I[t] was due to be hung up high so that you would look at it from below. If you looked at it from that angle it looked normal. … Then when they showed it they didn’t put it up high and then it didn’t look like the Queen.”

The painting will now permanently hang in Liverpool’s Town Hall, and let’s hope it’s hung very high.

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  • http://twitter.com/erskinestudio Nanci Erskine

    The only thing that bothers me about the Kate portrait is the deathly grey cast to the whole painting. Sucks the life right out of it. Why do some painters think mixing black with other colors is a great way to model form or create shadows?

    • John Redmann

      I don’t think the artist mixed black with other colors. I think what you’re seeing is some of the underpainting, traditional work like this was built up in layers. First a burnt umber tone was used to ‘sketch out the painting, then on top of that a black and white image was painted in thin layers with lots of oil to add value and depth, then on top of that colors are painted, again in very thinned layers. The process builds up a work, if done right you can achieve extremely rich or deep looking works. Here’s a quick guide on how to paint in that fashion: http://www.1art.com/tips.htm

      It’s difficult to photograph something like that and do it well especially when you have to compress the image for viewing online. Here’s the highest res image I found of KM: http://timenewsfeed.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/middleton_full_0111.jpg

      All that said, the image seems a little bit flat, like the value plateau’s in certain places that you wouldn’t expect it to plateau.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brianmoz Brian Fernandes-Halloran

    oh my maybe we should just give these artists and subjects a break It feels so natural to criticize but the more you step back the more the criticism become petty at best and cruel at worst.

  • http://www.facebook.com/terryward7 Terry Ward

    even tilting the 1953 picture to give it a hung-up-high look doesn’t save it.
    see:
    http://grumpyvisualartist.blogspot.com/2013/01/hang-her-high.html

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