Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. More by Hrag Vartanian
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by Maya Pontone
There seems to be a lot of excitement regarding this particular portrait for obvious reasons, is it warranted? Probably not as far as the artistic community is concerned. Why? (To me) It isn’t art, it’s picture making. There are great portraits that are also great works of art but this work doesn’t possess those qualities (Vermeer, or Rembrandt, or Schiele, or Klimt)
It’s a very straight forward portrait, critiquing it as a work of art does disservice to the work itself since there are a number of ‘higher watermarks’ in portraiture to compare it to (Klimt). Viewing it as a portrait and not as art, it seems like a nice enough work and if she’s happy with it, why shouldn’t we be?
One of my concerns is that very few if any of us have seen this in person and we’re critiquing it via a JPG. Don’t you think that does a disservice to the work?
You are right, few have actually seen the piece. This video offers an interesting perspective because you can asses the scale: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fUn8DW9aeBg
Here’s the wikipedia page of the artist Paul Emsley: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Emsley
From the artists statement on the wiki page, it says ‘…I try to transform the existence of the object from the ordinary to something more profound.’
In that regard I think he’s fallen short of his ambitions. Everything in this work sits on the surface, it is a portrait of the Duchess apx 300% larger. Spartanly adorned, with a color/finish that I cannot comment on. Perhaps we’re missing a subtle detail but from the youtube clip of Chris Lloyd reviewing it, the distinct difference between this work and strictly copying a photo were the 2 sessions the artist spent with the Duchess. If that is the best that one of England’s own (and the Queens) art historians and surveyors can come up, it’s fair to say that wysiwyg. That said you can even see the artist working from the photo in the youtube clip.
Artistic technique, composition, color use etc. can be critiqued and perhaps we could turn up something interesting but it is highly unlikely (or Chris probably would have done it for us). Chris Lloyd mentions DaVinci, I’ll be curt: this isn’t even the same ballpark, game, county, or state as an even unfinished painting by DaVinci. There is something nearly transcendental about a finished painting by DaVinci; in the present work it’s you and a large Kate.
I see it as a portrait, a picture of the Duchess, I don’t think you have to see every work of art to know if it’s brilliant or not. I’m sure this is a well painted work, but many well painted works aren’t art, they’re just pictures.
Perhaps it is an unconventional portrait for a royal family member to have commissioned, that doesn’t make it any more or less art though, that just makes it unconventional. I think that could be what we’re responding to, the unconventional nature of the portrait: the scale & composition and the relationship those have to the subject.
I think it’s sad that royal portraits are all quite bad. I wonder if this incident will encourage the royals to reconsider the tradition and finally try to innovate. Then again, would a radical portrait alienate the masses hey depend on for their support? Maybe.
Maybe the Prince will get Tomma Abts to try portraiture?
‘And here we have an abstraction of the Prince’s essence, expressed through geometric forms. What makes this different than her other pieces are the 2 sittings she had with the Prince himself…’
What about Lucien Freud’s 2001 portrait of the queen mother? Not 100% well received but at least it embraces the fact that it is paint and isn’t a bad attempt at photo realism.
There are certainly exceptions, but I think this portrait is more akin to this one of the princes (that no one really blinked about): http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw142385/Prince-William-Duke-of-Cambridge-Prince-Harry?LinkID=mp06341&role=sit&rNo=4
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