The Washington Post

Duchess of Cambridge’s official portrait: ‘stunningly unflattering’

The Duchess of Cambridge’s new portrait, painted by Paul Emsley, was unveiled on Friday at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Artist Paul Emsley to his newly-commissioned portrait of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, at the National Portrait Gallery in London. (Sang Tan/AP)

A fitting description of the work was immediately obtained from one of the greatest figures on the British literary scene.  

“[Kate’s] face. It was not in impenetrable shadow… but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious... The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot-air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part of its own expression.”

Charles Dickens was clearly prescient, since he wrote these words in 1843, though he believed he was describing the ghost of Jacob Marley in “A Christmas Carol” rather than a prominent member of the British aristocracy. However, more than a century and a half before the portrait came into being, Dickens eloquently summed up the impression made by this arresting image, which manages to be at once kitschy, clinically accurate and stunningly unflattering.


View Photo Gallery: The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting her first child. Here is a look at the royal couple.

Anne Midgette came to the Washington Post in 2008, when she consolidated her various cultural interests under the single title of chief classical music critic. She blogs at The Classical Beat.


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