Princess Kate’s controversial portrait isn’t the first to raise eyebrows


A new portrait of Princess Kate has faced criticism this week after being unveiled by society magazine Tatler, though it isn’t the first painting of the royal to raise eyebrows in the art world.

Tatler—a Conde Nast publication known for its coverage of British high society and royalty—announced its July cover this week with a specially commissioned portrait of the Princess of Wales by British-Zambian artist Hannah Uzor.

Titled by the publication “a portrait of strength and dignity,” the painting completes a triptych of commissioned artworks that featured as covers, including Queen Elizabeth II and King Charles III.

Newsweek approached Kensington Palace via email for comment.

The commission comes as Kate continues her absence from public life while receiving treatment for an undisclosed form of cancer. The princess didn’t sit for the artist and it is not considered an “official” work as it was not authorized by Kensington Palace.

Social media fans were split over the depiction of the princess, with some praising the “expression” captured, while the chief art critic of the Daily Telegraph, Alastair Sooke, described the piece as “jaw-hits-the-floor bad.”

Though Uzor’s interpretation of Kate has got people talking, it is by no means the first painting of the royal to stir up controversy.

In 2012, Kate was appointed the new royal patron of the National Portrait Gallery in London by Queen Elizabeth II. The patronage was one of the first to be taken up by the princess following her marriage to Prince William a year earlier.

To mark the occasion, the gallery commissioned an official portrait of their new patron, selecting British artist Paul Emsley for the task.

Princess Kate in London on November 15, 2023, and (inset) the portrait by Paul Emsley. Royal portraits often generate praise and criticism.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images/LEON NEAL/AFP via Getty Images

Emsley is a celebrated portrait and still life artist who also painted Nelson Mandela. His painting of the princess captured her head and shoulders in large scale staring directly out at the viewer with the hint of a smile.

Kate and Prince William were reportedly very complimentary about the work at its unveiling at the gallery in 2013, however, like Uzor’s work, it received a mixed review from critics.

Among them, Charlotte Higgins of The Guardian wrote at the time that it looked as though the royal had been transformed into “something unpleasant from the Twilight franchise.”

After a pile on from social media and the art press, Emsley told Hello! that it had caused him to briefly doubt his work.

“It really wasn’t pleasant and I stopped reading what had been written. I have coped with the criticism by going back into my studio and getting on with it,” he said in 2013.

“At first the attacks were so vicious that there was a point where I myself doubted that the portrait of the duchess was any good. But now I’ve had time to reflect, I am still happy with it and am getting on with my life. There is nothing I would have changed.”

When the National Portrait Gallery reopened after a three year refurbishment plan in 2023, Emsley’s portrait of Kate was not included in the re-hang of the permanent exhibition.

Princess Kate Paintings
Paul Emsley (L) with his portrait of Princess Kate at its unveiling for the National Portrait Gallery in London on January 11, 2013, and Jamie Coreth (R) with his portrait of the princess with Prince…


LEON NEAL/AFP via Getty Images/ Paul Edwards – WPA Pool/Getty Images

Today Kate can be seen on the gallery’s wall in a double portrait with Prince William painted in 2022 by the artist Jamie Coreth as a commission from the Cambridgeshire Royal Portrait Fund.

Coreth’s work also suffered criticism at the hands of critics and social media users.

Royal portraiture often generates polarizing reactions from its viewers and one of the most recent examples was shown in the unveiling of an official portrait of King Charles III by artist Jonathan Yeo.

The painting was unveiled at Buckingham Palace by the king on May 14 and its abstract red-washed background was received with both praise and criticism.

Laura Freeman, chief art critic for The Times of London, wrote that Yeo deserved a “knighthood for the face” but should be sent “off to the Tower [of London] with the background to await a grisly execution.”

James Crawford-Smith is Newsweek‘s royal reporter, based in London. You can find him on X (formerly Twitter) at @jrcrawfordsmith and read his stories on Newsweek‘s The Royals Facebook page.

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