. . . on the ultimate portrayal
Poor Kate Middleton. I mean, not poor exactly, not in the sense she’ll be down at Lidl snapping up the €3 wine, but you’d think in her position she’d be able to secure a half decent portrait of herself.
My favourite review of the new painting is on vulture.com. The critic is more concerned that it’s a crappy painting than with the fact it makes her look like an unappealing woman at least 15 years older than her 31 years: “It’s an absolutely lacklustre, conventionally generic, photorealistic rendition of a pretty, white, thin, young, bourgeois-looking woman with long hair . . . Nothing about it is distinctive, original, or anything other than mediocre.”
I am not an art critic so all I see is a painting of a beautiful young woman who has been made to look ordinary. And, just for good measure, completely wrecked. This is a woman who rarely looks either ordinary or wrecked, at least not when she’s on duty. Perhaps she turned up for the sittings looking both of those things just for the laugh and so the artist captured that. Middleton SAYS she thinks it’s “amazing, brilliant”. Ha! That’s like saying “amazing, brilliant” to all those holiday photos where you have three chins and a sun-induced squint. She’s no oil painting in this picture, that’s for sure.
These things happen in the art world though. It happened, for example, to my friend in New York. Now, I’m here to tell you she’s no Kate Middleton. She doesn’t have the good duchess’s canny knack for “mixing” “high-street” with “high-end” items for a start. (I am forced to use the quotes because I am allergic to “fashion speak”.) Notwithstanding her less evolved fashion sense, I think my friend is more attractive than Middleton.
She is one of those irritating people who hardly wears make-up, takes 10 minutes to get ready for a night out and still manages to outshine most of the people who’ve clearly spent hours just grooming their eyelashes. She looks 10 years younger than her fortysomething years and has a natural appeal that doesn’t need enhancing.
Anyway. To New York. We were having the most incredible holiday. Staying in the art-deco magnificence of the Mark Hotel, near Central Park on the Upper West Side. Everything, even the curtains, was on remote control.
The bath was as big as my bedroom at home in Dublin 3. For five days we lived the New York dream. Every morning I jogged in the park near the Alice in Wonderland statue, and the doorman of the Mark made me feel like a million dollars as I trotted, sweating and stinking, into the elevator.
We lashed through our itinerary, which included ice-skating in the park, Wicked on Broadway – go see it in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre later this year – and art galleries. We also did plenty that wasn’t on the itinerary. Outside Moma, in the freezing cold, was an artist who looked like he’d walked out of Francis Bacon’s studio. His clothes were stiff with paint, his nose was dripping on to his latest work, and he was doing portraits of people for $50 a pop. If you looked up “artist” in the Encyclopedia Britannica – some of us do still use it – there would be a picture of him there, nose dripping, looking all tortured.
My friend decided to sit for him. She came shivering back to the hotel two hours later carrying a portrait that made her look 20 years older. “Maybe it will look different when it dries,” she said hopefully.
Rather like I imagine Prince William is doing at the moment, I gave a series of noncommittal “hmmmms” and “haaahs”. It was quite incredible, really. When I looked at my friend I saw a natural beauty.The artist seemed to have uncovered her inner grumpy old man.
Maybe this is a genre of painting nonarty people don’t appreciate, where you take beautiful women and make them look ordinary and wrecked. On the other hand, unlike the Middleton portrait, this one is definitely “distinct” and “original” and definitely not “photorealistic”. The painter outside Moma could turn out to be the next Lucian Freud for all we know.
Until we get confirmation of his Freud-like abilities, my friend’s $50 investment is stuck down the side of a cupboard and will never be seen again until the day it’s transferred to the attic. “Look on the bright side,” I said. “You’ll have an actual portrait in the attic.”
And I’m sure, on her good days, Kate Middleton is thinking the same thing.