Nobody should be surprised that I didn’t like Paul Emsley’s portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge. Still, in the interests of art and blogging I decided I better go to the National Portrait Gallery and see it. Some writers and viewers have said it looks better IRL, but it really doesn’t. I honestly have little more to say about it than it looks exactly like a reject passport photo.
Down the corridor in a separate room is a series of portraits by Humphrey Ocean that are infinitely more interesting and worthwhile seeing. Since 2006 he has made quick goache watercolours of friends, family, and visitors to his studio. He insists on only spending 30 minutes on each, to allow the spontaneity of the portrait to show. Ocean says that he wants to give the impression ‘I was there and I was with this person’.
It is this essence of personality, immediacy, and individuality present in Ocean’s paintings, that the Kate portrait lacks. Awkwardly posed, lumpy, and in thick vivid paint, Ocean manages to give more emotion in the two dabs of Rose’s eyes - shown above - than Emsley does in the whole of the Kate portrait. Then again, it was always going to be difficult for a warts-and-all painter to remove the warts and all from a sitter.
These portraits aren’t photographic reality, but their unreality makes them more real and emotional than Kate could ever be. If the choice was mine, I would much rather have my portrait done by Humphrey Ocean than Paul Emsley.
A Handbook of Modern Life is at the National Portrait Gallery, London until the 1st of September, 2013.