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Guest blogger: Justine Lewis

16 September 2018

Painting an official royal portrait is a notoriously risky business. A portrait of a well-known or much loved public figure might make the reputation of the artist—or it might ruin it. The prospect of a scandal surrounding a royal portrait inspired my latest release.

History is littered with examples of royal portraits that haven’t been received as well as the artist may have liked. When Hans Holbein the Younger painted his infamous 1539 portrait of Anne of Cleves he had to tread a careful path between diplomacy and realism and paint a modest, regal and also appealing princess. But when Henry VIII met Anne she didn’t live up to the advertisement. Fortunately for Anne, she kept her head (not an easy task considering her husband’s form) and managed to negotiate a generous settlement. Holbein and Thomas Cromwell—the mastermind of the marriage—weren’t as lucky. The failed marriage to Anne marked the beginning of Cromwell’s downfall and while Holbein kept his position as Henry’s official painter the portrait of Anne cost him dearly in prestige and further commissions.

Modern day artists don’t face an easier time. Paul Emsley, who painted the first official portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge in 2013, may have kept his head but was crucified on social media. William and Kate were apparently very happy with the portrait but the critics called the painting ‘vampiric’, ‘tragically awful’ and ‘catastrophic’. Just to be clear, unlike Thomas Cromwell, no one actually died in the painting of Kate’s portrait.

Mocking royal portraits is hardly a new sport. The artist has to please the subject, the art critics and anyone with a twitter account. Thomas Kluge’s 2013 painting of the Danish royal family inspired as many memes as the portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge. Prince Phillip approved the choice of acclaimed artist Stuart Pearson Wright to paint an official portrait, but ended up rejecting the finished piece. Funny that.

Painters of royal portraits are not the only ones who risk reputational damage—Winston Churchill thought Graham Sutherland’s portrait of him was ‘filthy’ and ‘malignant’ and his wife apparently burnt the painting, though not before it had been presented to the House of Lords. Malcolm Fraser disliked his official portrait so much a second was commissioned. The first languished in a storeroom in Old Parliament House until released under a freedom of information request. Very Canberra. Fun fact: John Howard is the last Australian PM to have an official portrait painted and hung in Parliament House. Though there could be many reasons for this.

Of course, for every perceived disaster there are many more paintings that are much loved. The Mario Testino photographs of the Princess of Wales are considered iconic. I like the Andy Warhol portraits of the Queen and apparently she does too, because she bought several from the series.

The hero in my latest release, Marc Durand, is a talented and passionate artist, on the cusp of international success. He is commissioned by a Princess, Sophie, to paint her official portrait. Marc’s life is complicated enough without throwing a gorgeous princess into the mix. Marc knows that painting a royal portrait is fraught and, while it could make his career, it could just as easily destroy it. Just as he fears, things don’t go to plan.

You can find Justine here: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Books2Read

Painting the Princess

Princess Sophie needs to shake off her reputation as a frivolous party girl.

Handsome and passionate artist Marc Durand wants to prove he can make it on his own as a successful artist.

He has reluctantly agreed to paint her official portrait, but if she gives into temptation, will scandal consume them both?

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