First portrait of The Duchess of Cambridge unveiled

The first painted portrait of The Duchess of Cambridge has been unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery, with support from the Art Fund.

Bathed in aquatic blues and greens, the painting is a hyper-realistic study of the Duchess’s face, which takes up almost the whole canvas. Created by artist Paul Emsley, the painting took two sittings and five months to complete.

Art Fund trustee Christopher Lloyd discusses the portrait

The commission

The painting was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, and given by Sir Hugh Leggatt in memory of Sir Denis Mahon, through the Art Fund.

Art Fund director Stephen Deuchar said, “The unveiling of a first official portrait of a royal sitter is always an important and intriguing moment, defining and enshrining their public image in a new way. We are delighted that Sir Hugh Leggatt chose to make this gift to the British public and the National Portrait Gallery through the Art Fund.”

The sitter

Catherine Elizabeth Middleton, now The Duchess of Cambridge, studied History of Art at the University of St Andrews, and became a patron of the National Portrait Gallery shortly after her marriage to HRH Prince William of Wales. Her first solo public engagement was the opening of Lucian Freud Portraits at the gallery.

‘The Duchess explained that she would like to be portrayed naturally - her natural self - as opposed to her official self,’ said Emsley. ‘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 artist

Born in Glasgow and raised in South Africa, Paul Emsley took first prize in the 2007 BP Portrait Award for his painting of artist Michael Simpsons. His other commissions have included a 2010 portrait of Nelson Mandela.

Emsley’s signature style foregrounds his sitters against a dark background, using large canvases, close-ups and his meticulous technique to make his portraits seem more real than life.

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