Artist: Criticized Photo-Based Painting of Kate “Doesn’t Photograph Well”


The painting above is the first official portrait of Kate Duchess of Cambridge (formerly known as Kate Middleton). When it was unveiled to the public earlier this month, art critics around the world bashed it for making Kate look ghostly and much older than she actually is. On the receiving end of all the criticism has been British artist Paul Emsley, the man who photographed Kate Middleton and then turned one of the photos into the painting seen above.

Here’s a video in which Emsley explains how the painting was created and his thought process behind it:

As you can see, the painting was actually a very faithful recreation of a still photograph:





After the controversy over the quality of the portrait erupted, Mike Johnston over at The Online Photographer suggested that perhaps the original photograph was to blame rather than the artist’s painting skills:

The problem? Whoever picked the photo Mr. Emsley worked from just picked a bad shot. That’s my take. Any portrait photographer worth his or her salt wouldn’t have included that one in the proof package.

It might have been the Duchess herself who chose it, because she’s reportedly pleased with the portrait […] They should have just picked a good portrait photographer to do her portrait. Annie Leibovitz or Dan Winters would have done a better job.

After being bashed all across the web for a number of days, Emsley has finally come forward to respond to the critics. Calling the criticism “vicious” and a “witch hunt,” Emsley explained to Hello! magazine that his painting of a photo of Kate simply “doesn’t photograph well”:

I believe half the problem is the portrait doesn’t photograph well and I would encourage people to go and see it [at the National Portrait Gallery]

Although the painting might not photograph well, it apparently prints just fine as a postcard: the National Portrait Gallery reports that the postcards of the portrait are the fastest-selling of any painting at the gallery.

(via Hello! via TOP)

  • Clint Davis

    THAT is Kate Middleton?!?

  • Samcornwell

    It is peculiar that Emsley chose to make the painting from a photograph. What more is he adding to the portrait by painting it?

  • Brian

    Talk about overreacting. The portrait is fine, everyone is so quick to point the finger these days. Maybe Kate didn’t want to be portrayed as some snobby royalty, she just wanted to seem down to earth, which is why she chose that photograph. The painting may have more of an ethereal, dreamy look to it, but it appears as if the artist was going towards a more baroque approach to the portrait, as it seems to be the running tradition of British Royalty for the last few hundred years.

  • Jake

    It’s pretty common to have painted portraits of high-status celebrities like that. The painting is a one-of-a-kind item which can’t be endlessly recreated like a printed photograph, which adds a lot of posterity value. Usually, in the past, it is the subjects themselves who are painted, not a photo of them, which lets the painter use more artistic flourish.

  • 42323432432423

    she looks like 40 or so on teh photo and painting…. bad for a young womans

  • Bob

    I think because of the position she is in people judge her on her looks based on what the media tells us is beautiful. People compare her against supermodel looks & high profile Actresses, she isn’t any of them.

    In the photo that is shown above, she has a certain beauty & a glint in her eye that is all of her own & I feel the artist has managed to remove all trace of it!

  • Burnin Biomass

    I do have to admit, on my screen she does look older in the painting than in the photograph.

    I do buy the reason is that it doesn’t copy well. You always loose something.

  • Scatterbrained

    I would agree with Mike over at T.O.P., that’s just a bad portrait to begin with.

  • DamianM

    She looks very human and not Photoshopped and the painter stayed true to the image.

    Sorry the reality isn’t baby butt skin.

  • bob cooley

    Doing a simple google image search for Kate Middleton returns many MANY better images of the Duchess.

    This is just a horrible photo to make a painting from. The lighting is bland, and the photo makes her look much older than she is. Missed opportunity by the painter.

  • Ken Elliott

    The second photo from the top (just below the video) has a nice shot of Kate with a sleeved blouse. The darker shading on her right side gives more depth to her face. The flatter lighting of the image he painted lacks that shading, so her face looks wider. Her nose looks flatter as well – partially due to lighting and there may have been a difference in perspective (greater distance + longer lens likely used).

    I wonder if the actual painting has better shading, but doesn’t show up as well. Some paints look different depending on the lights. Heck, I make my prints darker for brightly lit offices and lighter for darkly lit homes. There may be truth in what the painter is saying.

  • Scott M.

    The shading under both eyes was too heavy handed and her nose is too wishy-washy. She has great bone structure and you just don’t see that in the painting. He changed the way the light hits her from the photo and it wasn’t an improvement. Look how he changed her neck area?
    On the other hand, I am glad I saw this because it isn’t quite as awful as I thought it was. Turns out he uses Old Holland oil paint. Windsor-Newton would be more patriotic. :)

  • Scott M.

    Busy, famous people have a hard time sitting still for days on end.

  • b.fleck

    Sorry, Dude. That’s just a crappy painting all ’round.

  • Henning Kristjansson Nilsen

    Funny how other royalty had no issue with it for centuries. But now it’s too hard apparently.


    “Annie Leibovitz would have done a better job”

    Can’t tell if serious or sarcastic.

  • Kris Wood

    They didn’t have publicists that made them go to seemingly pointless photo calls at primary schools to justify their status of monarchs of a state that isn’t run by a monarch.

  • fmfm

    She looks like she’s just farted and is trying not to laugh.

  • PassionPortraits

    The portrait is not flattering at all. much to flat, no reflections in the eyes. Looks like a teddy bear in a photo booth. It does not show any character at all. The photographer seems to have no connection with the model. There’s a difference between a technical correct portrait and a stunning good portrait.

  • seoras

    When it went to press critics and public alike, by the thousands of comments were pretty much unanimous in their reasoning it was just a bad painting, for whatever reason.
    I think the artist was blinded by the commission and created something he will regret for a very long time. Probably losing numerous commissions in the future.
    There is no excuse in him blaming the reproduction, after all there are many paintings greatly admired through reproductions in print form, not everyone can see the real things. Its especially ironic that he used photographs to duplicate, coming under the photo-realist genre of painting. Perhaps he needs to become a better photographer.
    Kate M would have said it was lovely, what else could she say, of course she might have actually liked it but be herself completely devoid of taste in such matters.

  • Matt

    I’m with you on that point. But the other posters are right, it is done a lot.

  • cheap shots for real

    Yeah, obviously Mr. Emsley has just seen the future 15 years from now when Kate actually *could* look like that. Paul Emsley should be seen as a visionary artist if anything… *applause*

  • Peter Mueller

    Finally, our painting find its on place that’s very nice.

  • Saywhat

    The biggest problem is the expression chosen.

    Determined? Serious? Confident? Naaa… she looks sick.

  • Laura

    The thing I find odd is that the entire painting appears to have a blurry, airbrushed, photoshoppy effect, so why did he recreate those lines under her eyes so faithfully? It’s out of sync, and that’s what makes it look like a much older person. Also, when painting a portrait, it’s tactful to minimize those less flattering elements. Why make them stand out? Poor decision, and unflattering portrait.

  • Scott Villalobos

    Kate doesn’t photograph well? What a crock. Sounds like the photographer doesn’t photograph well…