Kate Middleton’s official royal portrait was released this past week, to a universally poor reception. Critics have described this latest daub by artist Paul Emsley as “rotten,” “flatulent,” and “old and tired,” with Princess K described in most articles as looking ten years older than her real age. What went so horribly wrong?
The only happy favorable comments came from the royal couple themselves, who graciously described the portrait as “absolutely beautiful.” But the art world has given its catty judgment, dismissing it as nothing more than a “dull” picture, and the Internet is an online gallery of a thousand mock variations, none of them kind. Emsley’s reputation faces death by a thousand sneers. The whole affair paints a less than pretty PR picture.
In subsequent interviews, Emsley tried to minimize the damage by making the case that royal portraiture is not an easy assignment. The challenge for an artist, he said, is to find something original to express about an image that is already ubiquitous. True enough. This is one commission that, while it may seem prestigious, is more likely an example of perfect PR misalignment.
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR problematic) for Paul Emsley and his PR reputation. Making a royal portrait look innovative has proven a difficult task indeed.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Cutting edge and staid do not mix. Historically, despite Lucian Freud’s 2001 portrait of the Queen, most royal portraits need to meet a standard of creativity that is resolutely uncontroversial and unchallenging. For artists wanting to create buzz, this prestigious gig is not the route to take; the art world inevitably sneers “sell out,” critics are critical, and the public is at best indifferent. Artists, take note: Opt for a racier commission and focus on celebrities who crave the very controversy this picture is designed to avoid. Perhaps Lindsay Lohan is available for a sitting?