Buckingham Palace, Elizabeth II, Kate Middleton, Kings and Queens of England, kings and queens of the United Kingdom, Paul Emsley, Portrait, The Duchess of Cambridge, UnCanny Valley, United Kingdom of Great Britain, Wikipedia
Last week the first official portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge was unveiled in London. I have to be honest and say my heart sank when I first saw the portrait. My initial reaction was one of repulsion and sadness. I was repulsed, I understand that is a strong word, and sad that the first official portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge was so awful that I fell bad for her. Award-winning artist Paul Emsley, spent three-and-a-half months painting the Duchess’s portrait and he is said to have wanted to capture the her warmth and personality.
The positive aspect of the portrait is its warmth. The color and hues of the flesh tones and the entire ambiance of the portrait do convey a sense of warmth. However, what is so off-putting and aversion inspiring is that there is no spark of life in the picture. They eyes and over all expression seem flat, dead and lifeless to me. The artist also made her look older than 31 years of age and he also succeeded in making her look masculine.
All of these qualities of the picture lead to what is called a sense of the Uncanny Valley. I will copy the definition from wikipedia:
The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of robotics[ and 3D computer animation, which holds that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as a function of a robot‘s human likeness.
We can look at a cartoon of a person from Disney or Pixar and think it is cute. But the closer you get to actually looking human…yet there is something isn’t quite right…will cause an emotional response of aversion. As an artist myself who is working very hard at creating realistic portraits I understand this phenomenon. I can draw a portrait and if the mouth is a little large or the nose is out of proportion and if the eyes look dead then I have entered the Uncanny Valley.
I know I am being harsh but I was disappointed in the portrait. News reports say that the Duchess of Cambridge was happy with the results although the general public and art critics were also not happy with the results. I am glad the Duchess was happy with the results, although I wonder if those are her true feelings, is she in a position to be critical?
On a better note, Buckingham Palace announced earlier this week confirming that the Duchess of Cambridge will give birth in July and her symptoms of nausea continue to improve.
I must agree with you Bill – this is a disappointing portrait. The lighting is poor. The shadows emphasize facial creases. It look washed out/ over exposed/ with little facial color. Where is the glow of pregnancy?
I struggled to find the warmth that you did. Of course a digital image of the picture could be part of the problem.
What aspect of her personality does he show?
In sum I thought the picture makes her look old beyond her years.
The warmth I found in the picture was the muted colors. They were not bright, vibrant or sharp so they tried to convey a warmer overall tone to the picture.
Other than that I think it is just an awful painting.