LONDON – Oscar Wilde once said that “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.” And perhaps that’s how we should look at Nicky Philipps’ new portrait of Queen Elizabeth. Because if you are looking for the queen’s exact likeness, you won’t really find it here.
Philipps’ portrait has been dragged through the very dirty mud of a critical British media.
A few select reviews: “Abominable.” “A bloke wearing a wig and earrings.” “A hint of Churchill.” “Monstrous.”
The painting is the first ever painted portrait of the queen commissioned by Britain’s Royal Mail, released just a few days before the 60th anniversary of her coronation.
Philipps told the Press Association the queen was “wonderfully patient and friendly” during three sittings at Buckingham Palace last fall.
“It was a great honor to be selected for this prestigious commission and I have enjoyed the process immensely,” she said. “I hope she is pleased with the final result.”
Philipps seems to have pleased her commissioner, at least. Philip Parker, head of stamp strategy at Royal Mail, told the British media he considered it an “excellent portrait.”
But critics have been throwing sharp knives.
Estelle Lovatt, an art critic and lecturer, told the Telegraph: “It’s Thatcher meets Rumpole of the Bailey meets Hogarth, in Hogarthian England all the worse or perhaps the better for a glug of gin.” (You can google to understand that quote, but suffice to say – it’s not positive.)
More than 130 artists have painted the queen, and it’s often a thankless task. Earlier this month, Dan Llywelyn Hall’s portrait was likened to a puppet.
And it’s not only the queen who makes a tough subject. The nicest thing that Gawker had to say about Kate Middleton’s official portrait, unveiled in January, was that “like the real Duchess of Cambridge, her likeness features two eyes, a nose, and even a mouth.”
Philipps defended herself, saying she knew the reviews would be critical. She also pointed out her portrait is large and shows the queen standing next to her Corgis – but the stamp is only a head-shot.
The stamp was approved for release by the queen, so, at the very least, we know the Palace seems to have thought it worthy. Philipps already has the royal seal of approval. In 2009 she painted the first double portrait of Princes William and Harry in 2010 – to rave reviews.
Perhaps the best way to judge: see it for yourself. If you’re in London, it will hang at the Fine Art Commissions gallery from June 5-28.