* First official portrait of Duchess of Cambridge
* Subject said to be "very pleased" with outcome
* Artist Paul Emsley said duchess a "generous" sitter
* Public, critical reaction overwhelmingly negative
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON, Jan 11 The first official portrait of
Britain's Duchess of Cambridge, popularly known by her former
name Kate Middleton, was unveiled in London on Friday, and
opinion was sharply divided over an image many deemed
The 31-year-old, who as a glamorous future queen is one of
the world's most photographed women, is portrayed in the large
canvas with a faint smile, long, copper-tinted hair and shadow
under her eyes.
Award-winning artist Paul Emsley, surrounded by a scrum of
international news crews at the National Portrait Gallery where
the work was revealed, described the duchess as a "wonderful
subject" and "generous as a person.
"The brief was that it should be a portrait which in some
way expressed her natural self rather than her official self,"
"When you meet her, that really is appropriate. She really
is that kind of a person. She's so nice to be with and it's
genuine and I felt if the painting can convey something of that
then it will have succeeded."
National Portrait Gallery staff said the duchess and her
husband Prince William visited earlier on Friday and were "very
pleased" with the outcome of a painting based on photographs
taken at two sittings in May and June last year.
"Her family are also very pleased," Emsley said. "To me
that's the ultimate test in a way, because they know her better
than anyone else."
Public reaction was less positive, however, with views on
Twitter and newspaper websites overwhelmingly negative.
Many comments focused on how the image had aged the duchess,
herself a graduate in art history, while others took the artist
to task for portraying her smiling slightly.
One Daily Mail reader from Canada summed up broader opinion
in an unnamed comment.
"OMG, how awful! Rather than being overly flattering as many
royal portraits are, this one is the extreme opposite. She's
barely recognizable! Poor Kate, forced to say she's 'thrilled'
when in all likelihood, she is as horrified as the rest of us."
Sunday Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak called the
portrait "pretty ordinary ... He (Emsley) made her look older
than she is and her eyes don't sparkle in the way that they do
and there's something rather dour about the face."
Glasgow-born Emsley, whose previous commissions included
former South African President Nelson Mandela, knew he would be
in the public eye when taking on a subject of the duchess's
stature as a royal and global celebrity.
"It's probably the most important portrait I'll ever do, and
when you realise that, you do start to think rather carefully
about what you're doing perhaps more than you usually do, and
that made me more cautious than I normally am."
The duchess has recently been in the headlines after
spending four days in hospital being treated for acute morning
sickness having announced she was pregnant.
The National Portrait Gallery commissioned the painting of
its patron, and it was given to the gallery by Hugh Leggatt
through the Art Fund.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)