With all of the controversy over the first official portrait of Kate Middleton, I thought I’d dig a little deeper into portraiture of the Royal family. I discovered that the scuttlebutt over Kate’s portrait is minor compared to the firestorm created by the unveiling of a 2001 portrait of Queen Elizabeth painted by Britain’s most famous living artist, Lucian Freud!
Queen Elizabeth has sat for 129 portraits in her 60+ year reign. But one stands out. One small portrait only 6” by 9” painted by the grandson of Sigmund Freud, Lucian Freud, will go down in history as the most controversial portrait of the Queen ever painted.
Critics were outraged at Freud’s audacity. The Sun newspaper called the painting a “travesty”. Robert Simon, Editor of the British Art Journal was quoted as saying, “It makes her look like one of the royal corgis who has suffered a stroke”. Others called it “extremely unflattering”, “like she has a six o’clock shadow”, and that “she wears a severe expression”.
To show the wide-ranging subjectivity of art, this portrait was also lauded by the Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Charles Saumarez-Smith, as “thought provoking and psychologically penetrating”. The chief art critic of The Times, Richard Cork reviewed the portrait as “painful, brave, honest, stoical and, above all, clear sighted”.
Some in the art world believe that Freud painted the Queen as his alter ego. Comparisons made to a later self-portrait by Freud shows striking similarities of facial features.
Lucian Freud died in 2011, so fortunately Kate Middleton won’t have her portrait painted in the naturalism, penetrating style by Freud. If people think that artist Paul Emsley’s painting of Kate made Kate look older and was unflattering, then for sure a portrait of Kate by Freud would have been too much to comprehend.
Here is the portrait of Queen Elizabeth that rocked the art world along with an amusing picture of the artist at his easel with the miniature canvas and the Queen posing.