Jan 112013

We take a break from our year-end polls to update you with a few items about Kate. The National Portrait Gallery officially unveiled its first portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge today, William and Kate were given a preview before the painting went on public display.

John Stillwell/PA Wire

Above we see the couple chatting with Paul Elmsley, the artist. More on how he was chosen from the Palace news release:

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.

Mr. Elmsley was born in Glasgow, Scotland and raised in South Africa. The NPG site has background on the painting:

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.


The portrait shows Kate against a dark background, a signature trait of the artist. For those curious about what Kate wore in the portrait here is more from the Daily Mail:

She is wearing a bottle-green pussy bow blouse and a pair of earrings that were a wedding gift.

You can see the sleeveless top a bit more in the video about the creation of the oil painting.

The Royal Channel on YouTube

The earrings appear to be the sapphire and diamond pair re-fashioned from a set belonging to Princess Diana. The Duchess did two sittings last May and June, the first was at Kensington Palace and the second at Mr. Elmsley’s studio. More from the Telegraph:

The painting was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and, following her suggestion, depicts her natural, not official, persona.

The Duchess told the artist: “It’s just amazing, I thought it was brilliant.”

Prince William also had high praise for the painting, saying: “It’s beautiful, it’s absolutely beautiful.”

The portrait is proving rather controversial, being described as “rotten” in the Daily Mail and Kate as having a “vampiric, malevolent glare” in The Guardian. But Canada’s National Post offers this:

In fairness to Emsley, some artists had praise for his work.

“I liked it, very much so,” said Richard Stone, who has frequently painted members of the royal family. “So often with official portraits they can be rather stiff and starchy, but this has a lovely informality about it, and a warmth to it.”

The Duchess appeared happy with the work, according to the Daily Mail:

She spent 10 minutes studying the portrait before gesturing with her hands, indicating that she was particularly pleased with the way he had captured her around her mouth and nose.

‘Thank you,’ added the polite royal, who met the 65-year-old artist with his wife Susanne and one of his daughters, Maria, in a separate room after viewing the portrait privately away from him.

‘I had such a fun day at the studio,’ she told Maria.

While The Telegraph called the work, “an aesthetic disaster” art Critic Mark Hudson also makes this point:

Yet Mr Elmsley has my sympathy. Whatever he produced would have been roundly trashed by a large section of opinion.

Kate was in her burgundy ‘Sofie Rae’ dress from Whistles. The frock is 100% silk, with a deep vee neckline and what some call a “granddad collar”. It is below-knee length with significant fabric gathering at the waist and shoulder.


We previously saw the dress when Kate and William traveled to Denmark in November, 2011 for UNICEF and when she visited Newcastle in October, shown below.

October 2012, Photos Courtesy of Alyssa Phillips

She accessorized with her Episode Angel shoes, although hers are suede.

Episode ‘Angel’

She was wearing the same earrings seen in the portrait as well as her Asprey Button Pendant.

PA Wire/Asprey

For those unable to see the portrait in person you can have your own “copy,” the Gallery is selling postcards featuring the painting.  A single postcard is £0.70 (for members the price is £0.63, roughly $1 at today’s exchange rate), a set of six will set you back £3.50 (about $5.65) with a members price of £3.15.

Kate’s family was also on hand for the private viewing, afterward all enjoyed a private breakfast. When leaving the Gallery it appeared Kate was carrying a little present, I wonder if she was given a set of the postcards…?


Kate celebrated her 31st birthday Wednesday night with a trip to Royal Albert Hall to see Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA show.

Cirque du Soleil

Carole, Michael, Pippa and James Middleton also saw the show, more from People:

“With William, 30, beside her (wearing eyeglasses), she was spotted clapping and laughing at the show at the Royal Albert Hall, and an observer reports she was looking “happy and radiant.”

Photos from Wednesday night aren’t available at either service I use for pictures, but you may view a gallery of them at The Telegraph. Seeing Kate well enough to be at public functions and appearances is a sign she must be feeling better, that is very good news.


Also today, a quick glance at that British Vogue story about Kate.

British Vogue February 2013

More on the “Katepediadirectly from the magazine:

To celebrate the style evolution of a modern royal icon, this month Vogue, with writer Lisa Armstrong, set itself the task of analysing her every outfit, shoe and accessory to divine the vital statistics of Kate’s style.

British Vogue February 2013

“We pored over thousands of pictures, and probed her favourite designers to find her favourite neckline, sleeve length and silhouette, the secret of that dazzling smile, the hidden value of her “down-to-earth” glamour – and just how she might adapt her McQueen as maternity wear.”

British Vogue February 2013

The story is in the February issue of British Vogue, available at some bookstores and newsstands in the US.

British Vogue February 2013

The magazine is also available on the iPad.


We’ll be back tomorrow with our next polls.

  68 Responses to “Kate Wears Whistles for Portrait Unveiling, Celebrates Birthday at Cirque de Soleil”

  1. The dress is beautiful. She looks beautiful from head to toe.

  2. I love the protrait. I took one look and fell for it. I love that it’s such a classic style of painting for such a classic lady in a very public role.

    I like so much her direct gaze — looking at me looking at her — she seems to be challenging her onlookers as to just how much they need to go on looking. Yes, they are welcome when she is performing her public role, but will they know when to stop when the pictures become more intrusive? It gives me a twinge of guilt for even taking part in such a respectful website as this , as I know, deep down, that I’m still contributing to the pressure for more images of her.

    She seems to be telling me that no matter how many of those images there are, she will always remain a very private lady, and that there’s a part of her none of us will ever be a party to — it’s such a direct, clear, self-aware and intelligent gaze, as she coolly assesses her onlookers.

    I like so much that small Mona Lisa smile, as if for a private joke, and any implied reference to the Leonardo only underlines the Duchess’s own very classic beauty, something which is timeless. I love the way just one of the earrings is shown, harking back to Diana with the double connotation both of tragedy, brought about by intrusive watching, and the intimate affection of a son for his mother.

    And I love the hint of shadows and wrinkles round the eyes. These tell me that Catherine is a woman of experience, that she knows she has her prince and will live in a palace, but that these things, as ever, still come at a price, which she has had the remarkable maturity to accept.

  3. I was delighted to see the Duchess venturing back out into public, and it’s certainly a very pretty and flattering dress on her, both in colour and style.

    My only regret is that she still seems bent on wearing full skirts in flimsy fabrics when out in the open and I would have thought she’d had enough sartorial embarrassment of that sort by now.

  4. Kate looks more amazing in the dress than the model does!

  5. Portrait of Kate is awful. She looks old; her eyes are too small; her cheeks are too big and her smile all wrong. I can paint her and make her more beautiful!!

  6. Any leads on the green blouse yet?

  7. Don’t care about the portrait. Love the dress!!!

  8. Well, I like the portrait more afte watching that video in the peer release link above. The portrait looks much better in the video than in the news photos. I was AMAZED that the painter said he altered the color of her eyes! Huh?!? I thought his style was photo realism …. how would changing eye color fit in with that style ?

  9. Thanks for clarifying what earrings Kate wore to the viewing. I thought in the photos I saw, they looked like the diamond surround sapphire earrings that belonged to Dianna that Wills presented to Kate – she had them altered from button style to gold wire drop, keeping more with Kate’s own style. I read elsewhere that the earrings Kate wore to the viewing were the green quartz – diamond surround earrings that Wills gave Kate for Christmas 2011. Both pairs are styled similarly and is an easy mix up to make. I would have thought she would have been freezing getting out of the car on the short outdoor walk into the museum with no coat or wrap of any kind on…surprised she was not wearing something. That silk dress is quite light weight.

    • It is very clear in the pics from the potrait viewing that can be found on other sites, that on Friday Kate wore the green earrings that have been speculated as last year’s Christmas present from William.

      In the actual potrait, she is wearing the saphire and diamond earrings that used to be Diana’s and which she had turned into a slight drop, as opposed to the original button earrings. They match her engagement ring.

      • Just to clarify, the comment I made in the paragraph under the portrait is referencing the earrings worn in the portrait, the re-fashioned diamond/sapphire pair that were original Diana’s.

  10. I think a lot of what I’ve read so far is ridiculous. Kate is not a young girl. She is not the fairy princess that so many want her to be. If you stop projecting your own fantasies on to her you remember that she’s 31. She’s a woman in full. Take away the makeup and the Photoshop and a most women her age have a few wrinkles, sallow skin and yes, even bags under the eyes. Some of us have smile lines at 30 and most of us have splotches and pimples. That being said, I think the painter may have played a very subtle prank. This portrait looks like Anakin Skywalker after he went to the dark side. He over did something with the eyes and mouth and made her look a bit sinister.

    • Gosh, 31 is still pretty young these days. Don’t put her in an old age home yet.

    • I disagree. Thirty-one is still young, and while I agree that 31 is a woman, I disagree that women that age have wrinkles, sallow skin and bags under their eyes. No, she is not a “young girl”, but most people would view being thirty-one as the prime of life. What you describe is a tired woman that is over the hill-not a wholly objective assessment.

  11. I am from Canada and have been following your site for sometime. I am very disappointed in the new portrait of Kate. The skin tone is off, the eyes don’t have their sparkle, it is dark and her hair colour is off and has no shine to it.This is not the Kate we know. I agree with many of the British newspapers, this portrait is a disaster. I think a new one should be commissioned as soon as possible!I think Will and Kate were just being polite when they said they liked it. No wonder it took Kate 10 minutes before commenting, she does not like it either.

    • As a professional in the field, I don’t agree that it’s a disaster, but this is only the first of many. There must be dozens of portraits of the Queen; more than one was painted of Diana and of the Queen Mother.

      It’s generally considered a good idea to commission a variety of portraits from artists of a variety of types and genres.

  12. Oh, I really dislike that portrait :(
    It makes her look middle aged, not flattering at all :( The detailing in the portrait is beautiful, but it just doesn’t do her justice.

  13. I love her outfit and her portrait looks so real.

  14. Ok- so I must be the only one that loves the portrait. She said she wanted natural and that is what we got. She didn’t want it of her her “official” image and this definitely is making a statement to us I think. She is trying to show us who she really is. I also bet in person it is even more brilliant. Her eyes sparkle and her almost smirk is one I noticed just yesterday in pictures of her at her birthday where she looked the photographer in the eye as if to say- “I see you there…”

    I think he true mistake would be to compare the pictures of her on duty at official engagements to the way she looks in this portrait. I think we got a rare look at what she is like when she is not in the public eye.

    I love it.

  15. . It is like he decided to personify her down to Earth persona by making her look awful because I guess “normal” people look bad to him. Except that Kate normally looks gorgeous and younger than her 31 years so this is really a bad representation of her. My drivers license photo looks better and i frankly look like cra in it, but at least I don’t look 20 years older than I am and about to sneeze. This seems to be his guess of Kate at 50. I have never noticed bags under her eyes before and if they turned up in the pictures he took he should have taken better pictures. I can’t believe he wasn’t stopped mid painting and told to start over. I would be so upset if I were her. Of course she can’t say anything negative, but poor Kate she is stuck with that forever.

    • Kate normally does look great – but we usually see full-length photographs. We rarely see photographs of a similar size to the portrait of just her head and shoulders. Because it’s massively blown up, the flaws are much more obvious. I do think she usually looks older than 31.

      A portrait isn’t about flattering someone, it’s about painting what is there. The bags under her eyes are there in the close up photographs he took. He’s known for his paintings looking like photographs – if you want a flattering portrait this is probably not the man to pick. Kate would have known that. I think by picking him she sends out a strong message: Don’t put me on a pedestal. I’m human.

  16. Susan, These look like last year’s Christmas present earrings to me, not Diana’s sapphires. Also, any word on the belt or clutch?

    Thanks, as always.

    • I read over on Charlotte’s blog these were the green quartz/diamond surround earrings Wills gave Kate for Christmas 2011…but in the couple photos I could see through all her hair to the earrings, they looked more like the button sapphire/diamond surround earrings that belonged to Diana and Wills gifted to Kate. Kate altered the buttons to be on a gold wire, short drop style which is the exact same style as the green quartz/diamond ones. The Huffington Post reported the sapphire/diamond earrings in the portrait were Kate’s and had been a private wedding gift. That was the first I ever heard of this wedding gift, so don’t really know who the source was for the Huffington Post. I think we will need to watch in months/yrs ahead and see if there is another set of sapphire/diamond surround earrings that are not drop.

  17. I’m sure Kate said all that was polite.
    Good thing I wasn’t there – my expression would have given away what I feel about this portrait.

    I love the way the eyes are painted but … the overall effect is to make Kate look dull, middle-aged and has not captured her vitality which is so wonderful.

    Oh! Ugh!

    • I would assume this was NOT the first time Kate/Wills and for that matter, the Queen had seen the official portrait. These things are usually shown to whomever the royal portrait is of before there is any ‘official’ unveiling. If Kate/Wills or the Queen found strong objection to the portrait, it never would have made it to the official unveiling and subsequent hanging for public at the National Portrait Gallery. I wonder where this will hang after it’s run at the NPG is over with. My guess is it will go to either Buckingham Palace or possibly Kensington Palace. If the public comment were more favorable over all, I would think Buckingham Palace would find a place to hang the portrait so that it would be seen on the public tour route of the Palace tour.

  18. As I will be in London for a few days in June, I have added the National Portrait Gallery to my list of “must see.” Like it or not, I can’t wait to see it in person!

  19. i think this portrait is awful. i don’t think it’s flattering at all–why make such dark circles around her eyes?


    • Who says it has to be flattering?

      If you watch the video, you’ll see what it looks like the picture he worked on, he then enlarged certain features so he could paint them in greater detail. You’ll see her eyes do have dark circles, as they often do.

      This artist is known for his paintings looking like photos. You don’t ask someone like that to paint you if you want a flattering portrait.

  20. Scrolling down this page, you can see from photos that Kate is a happy, vibrant young woman. In contrast, she looks like death warmed over in the portrait. The portrait manages not to capture anything I’ve come to associate with Kate. If the title of the portrait was “Duchess of Cambridge at 45, Barely hanging in There,” it would make more sense.

    Moving on, Kate looks beautiful today. Love the dress on her. She looks effortlessly elegant in it.

    • It looks better in the video – her skin looks brighter. I thought the same until I saw the video. The photo of it appears to have the colours slightly off, or isn’t lit well.

  21. What a horrible portrait. It makes her look 20 years older. I’d place it in a closet in the far reaches of the palace and use a photograph instead. After all they are the “modern” monarchs. No more oil painted portraits.

  22. I remember loving this dress from the earlier outing and wishing that we could have seen more of it; I guess I got my wish! What a lovely frock. I think the cuffs on the sleeves are a detail of which the Duchess is fond, but, my, isn’t this a more successful sleeve than the 70s-inspired sleeves on the red Beulah dress? I especially like the deep V-collar and the darts at the shoulders: a very flattering dress, whether the wearer is pregnant or not.

    I am very disappointed with the portrait. I keep trying to see it from a more positive angle and failing. I can’t help but think the Duchess was just being polite when expressing her approval. She may have lines around her eyes and mouth in real life, but I’ve never seen them aside from in this portrait. I’m also unhappy with the color of her hair. The hue seems much redder than it is in real life. (As a brunette, I’m even a smidge offended!) I agree with Caroline that something is off with the bridge of her nose. And why oh why did the artist work primarily from photographs instead of live sittings? I will go ahead and confess my ignorance of portrait painting, but I would assume that relying so heavily on a 2D photograph (as Caroline pointed out) is not going to yield as satisfying a portrait as live sittings.

    I also find something unsettling about the decision to paint solely her head and shoulders. Anyone else feel this way? I just can’t help feeling that her nose is about to be smooshed by a window pane as she leans out.

    • I believe some of the critics commented that with someone like this, you don’t get many live sittings, so you have to work with photos. He said in the video he got a full day with her and then a few hours.

      I don’t mind the head and shoulders – to me that’s the way a traditional portrait should be. this way, we get to focus entirely on the expression. I don’t think we would get anything extra by having her body painted in.

  23. Apparently se took ten minutes to place a comment…I am sure she needed to get her words together. It would have been too easy to have a spontanious laught at the sight of this painting. It’s just so odd, if I see it in person I will have to control myself not to laught. She looks like the evil queen of snow white, the total opposite of who she is. Did anyone see her wax statue? I would rather see that if I visit London then this morbid portait.

    If anyone sees the portrait in person, please let us know how it looks in real life. I hope it’s nice.

    BTW: it’s not Cirque de Soleil but Cirque DU Soleil. But don’t worry, it’s nothing compare to all my english spelling errors.

    • Thank you for reading *and* commenting. You are wonderful to let me know about the typo, I managed to have it correct in the photo caption but typed it incorrectly in the post text. :)

      • Re: Kate on Tour, the placement of the country flags against the outfits somehow feels wrong for the three except Canada. You might like to verify it?

  24. I must have misunderstood something here. The blouse in the portrait seems having sleeves, but the one in the picture doesnt…

    • I’m sure Emsley added the sleeves for the sake of propriety. Although it does seem marginally ridiculous, since many portraits of at the National Portrait Gallery reveal quite a bit of cleavage.

    • I think I read that he imagined the top – you can see in the picture that it’s blue, in the painting, it is green.

      • I also read that the top was a artist creation and nothing that exists in real life. The artist was quoted as saying he used teal because it’s a shade Kate favors and it also worked well with his dark backgrounds he is known for. The artist did stick pretty close to the same bow tie as seen in the one photo side by side comparison, despite he used a # of photos. The contrast of her skin against the dark background if he had left her sleeveless would have been far too stark in contrast and distracting for the composition. Also putting sleeves on the top of the portrait garment makes it more timeless. In today’s fashion wearing sleeveless is commonly done even in mid winter for every day wear – a tradition strongly set by Mrs. Obama.

  25. The painting is godawful she looks 45 in it, her hair is greying and the facial expression is all wrong. However she looks gorgeous in red at the unveiling I love the sash too.

  26. I feel like the portrait has bags under the eyes that the photo does not have…? Other than that, Kate looks fine, I guess. The smile is a little Mona-Lisa-ish. I am sure people would prefer Kate to have a more open, toothy smile but I think the closed-mouth smile reflects her private personality.
    Mark Hudson’s comment in the story was correct: a significant number of people were going to hate the portrait, no matter what it looked like.

  27. I am not especially keen on the portrait; I am, however, struck with how gracious Kate is. It was a hard portrait to commission and I am sure the artist was appreciative of her kind words this morning.

  28. As an art historian, I quite like the portrait and do not feel that it makes the Duchess look too old. However, I do understand that Emsley’s photorealism isn’t to everyone’s taste. It doesn’t smooth over flaws; it doesn’t prettify or glamorize the sitters.

    It’s not a brilliant piece of art, but it’s a fine work of rather more artistic interest than the standard society portrait.

    I can’t be as positive about this Whistles dress, which I’ve never liked. The design and the darkish red color just don’t appeal to me. I’m reminded of her Beulah dresses, all of which I’ve disliked.

    • Hmmm. Well, I think your point about the photorealism is significant. Since the Duchess personally selected Emsley, I suppose she favors this style of portraiture.

  29. Any word on what Kate wore to Cirque de Soleil?

  30. I also love the dress and everything else that goes with it. I would want to own such a piece in my own closet.

  31. Unfortunately, I think the portrait makes her look ten years older and I agree with Elizabeth’s comment that in the photo she has a sparkle in her eyes that is not conveyed in the painting. I hope that at least privately the royal family is underwhelmed and they commission another one maybe for her 35th birthday.

    • I very much agree! There is time enough for more formal portraits where she looks more severe (and older . . .)

  32. I love this dress—I find everything about it (cut, waist, color, length, sleeve, neckline) to be flattering on the Duchess. In fact, she needs some more dresses, in different colors and materials, cut like this in her wardrobe. The portrait is a matter of personal taste—I understand both sides of the argument. I think that Catherine looks lovely here, and if she hadnt fallen ill, none of us would be certain she is pregnant or not—-the “bump” is well hidden by this frock. I hope she is feeling much better.

    • Very flattering, and probably very easy to wear – not a tight skirt etc. She looks much better, and wearing a nice familiar “comfy” dress like this probably made her feel better.

  33. I like the Whistles dress on Kate–the black accessories make it more evening appropriate.

    While there are aspect of Kate’s portrait that I like, I think the artist fell a bit short of what he wished to convey. Instead of Kate’s warmth, there is an air of hardness or cynicism in the portrait which I did not see in the photos from which the artist worked. also, Kate has something of a high bridged nose and the artist seemed to struggle with that a bit, giving it a broader and flatter aspect. Perhaps that is a danger of working with 2D photos rather than from proper portrait sittings.

  34. Wow, I just think this is a very unflattering portrait. Why, why is it a closed-mouth smile? Her face looks washed out. She is so beautiful; this portrait doesn’t do her justice.

  35. I am …. Undecided? I guess that means it is good art! :)

  36. Love the dress, but that portrait is hideous. Maybe it’s better in person.

    • I feel the same way about both. It almost looks as though she has a snooty expression, and it’s not flattering.

      • +1. I found the portrait even a bit…scary. :(

      • I thought the same thing, Megan. She looks old and aloof in the portrait. Not becoming at all, in my opinion.

        Regarding the dress,…it is ok. Not bad, not great. I do like the color on her.

        Finally, about the pictures of her and her family, I didn’t find them too intrusive. They were in a public forum where photos can be taken of anyone. Even though it was not an official function, it was a public one. Just like pictures of her grocery shopping or walking Lupo. If the royal family is out in public, I’m sure they have come to expect photos be taken. It goes with the job. It isn’t at all the same as the honeymoon or France photos which did step over the line.

  37. I’m very glad you have a link to the video of the artist explaining in detail how he and Catherine chose how she would be painted and his process. After watching it, I don’t feel as critical of the painting. I can see that he is an absolutely incredible painter as the painting looks almost like a large airbrushed photograph. Like many, I am not over pleased with the painting, and I couldn’t really pinpoint what it was at first but after watching the video I think it’s because in the picture you can see the “sparkle” in her eyes that conveys her warmth and kindness and that is missing somewhat in the painting. Of course, I know NOTHING about making portraits so perhaps there are some things that just can’t be “captured” 100% in a painting. It makes me wonder how different many historical people probably looked in real life vs the paintings we see of them :) Also, thank you so much for the info on the dress! This dress is so simple and stunning on Catherine and I love that I finally could see it by itself and not hidden under her coat. The video of her with her family seeing the Cirque de Soleil show was so funny and sweet! Very good to see her feeling well enough to get out more. Thanks for the great post as always!

  38. I didn’t like the portrait at first glance, but the more I look at it the more I like it. And I imagine it’s much more stunning in person than it is when we see pictures of it. It’s hard for a photograph to portray the depths that a painting can.

    • We are seeing the portrait closeup, online… seen in the gallery at a viewing distance I think it will be stunning.

    • I agree! The portrait is growing on me too. I’m sure in the context of the gallery, the essence of the work can be understood better. Unfortunately, the official image, as viewed on a laptop screen, doesn’t do the artist much credit.

      The photograph that the portrait is based on is absolutely stunning.

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