Duchess of Cambridge Portraitist Nicky Philipps Shares Insights

Duchess of Cambridge Portraitist Nicky Philipps Shares Insights
The Duchess of Cambridge visits the National Portrait Gallery

ARTINFO UK had suggested David Hockney, Paula Rego, or Stella Vine, but, as usual, Prince Charles has favored a more traditional approach and commissioned Welsh artist Nicola Jane Philipps to paint the young Duchess of Cambridge. Kate — an art history graduate and patron of the National Portrait Gallery — has been sitting at the artist's studio in South Kensington while Prince William is carrying out his controversial tour of the Falkland Islands. There are rumors that Prince Charles might give the painting to his son for his 30th birthday on June 12th, or to the couple on their first wedding anniversary next month.

Philipps hit the headlines in 2010 with her National Portrait Gallery-commissioned double portrait of the two princes, wearing the uniform of the Household Calvary and engaged in what the artist described as "brotherly banter." Prince Harry thought he was "too ginger" in the picture and mocked the fact that the thinning William had been granted a full head of hair, but admitted, that, overall, "it could have been worse." Critics were more generous, and the Guardian's Jonathan Jones went as far as to make a parallel with Velasquez.

A few months ago, when asked how she would react if she was invited to portray the Duchess of Cambridge, Philipps answered: "I wouldn’t turn it down in a million years, but beautiful people are always more difficult. With symmetrical faces, there’s nothing to hang the portrait on. It’s very unlikely that you’ll ever do them enough justice." Now she's in for the challenge.

Spending time with her subjects is, for Philipps, a key part of the process. "It's absolutely fundamental that you have sittings," she told ARTINFO UK, "you have to build that relationship with someone. The human eye has so many more resources at its disposal than the camera, being a technical object, ever will — however sophisticated. Nobody will give you everything in a very short space of time."

"A lot of people come to the studio full of complexes and worries about how they are going to look, particularly the girls," she continued. "That's human nature. It's such an alien situation: sitting in the corner of some room and being stared at for a long time. It can be quite intimidating, so you need time for people to relax. Then, gradually, things come out. The more I'm given by my sitter, the better the portrait will be."