Apparently, everyone and their mother has an opinion about the new official protrait of the Duchess of Cambridge (the woman formerly known as Kate Middleton)—and most of them are negative. Whatever you think of the portrait (and opinions have been extremely varied), what I don't understand is why so much of the discussion has centered around the fact that Kate doesn't look 'pretty' enough. Oh sure, there are plenty of artists who have critiqued the painting for its artistry (or what they see as a lack thereof), but much of the dislike seems to be aimed squaredly at the fact that, as Robin Simon of the British Art Journal wrote, she looks 'ghastly.' Many others have critiqued that she looks "old" or "wrinkled."
But the portrait's painter, Paul Emsley, explains that Kate wasn't looking for a glamourous painting, but rather one that made her one of the people—which she is after all, being of non-royal lineage herself. "What she wanted was that the portrait should convey her natural self as opposed to her official self," he explained to The Daily Mail.
He went on to add that painting a portrait is actually more difficult when the subject is an oft-photographed and known as being so attractive. ‘The fact she is a beautiful woman is, for an artist, difficult. When you have lines and wrinkles it is much easier as an artist to capture them as a person. Obviously she has none of that. But I tried to do that with her smile and hope I have succeeded.’ After all, the artist was trying to capture the essence of the Duchess, not recreate a photograph of her (there are certainly enough of those). And that is what portrait painting is about—not a perfect likeness, and not created to make a someone look perfect, but to capture a feeling, dare I say an aura (not the new age kind, but maybe something of the feeling of being in the same room with the person) that photography or videography cannot.
Some people have critisized that the Duchess was smiling—and some that she wasn't smiling enough. But Emsley told BusinessNewsDaily, "I think it was the right choice in the end to have her smiling. That's really who she is, I think," said Emsley. And that, after all, is what a portrait should be: An image that captures who you are inside, as well as what you look like. A gracious, happy, woman who is humble enough to know that a portrait is just that—and that there are literally tens of thousands of images showing her looking her gorgeous self. This painting is one for the ages, showing a soft, knowing, and womanly Kate Middleton. In a society obsessed with aging and fighting it every step of the way, maybe the 'imperfect' portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge is a bit of a revolutionary act. Maybe Kate is saying "It's OK to be yourself!"