You probably caught wind last month of the hullabaloo concerning the official portrait of Princess Catherine, wife of Prince William and eventual queen consort. I was horrified by the portrait, and I’m not even English. Whether you’re a monarchy fan or not, it’s hard to deny that Kate possesses one of the most reliably cheerful and lovely countenances of modern times. In the portrait, she’s in a black, featureless room, she’s pasty and washed out, she’s got bags under her eyes, her smile is closed and pinched, and she’s got, believe it or not, incipient jowls. Is this some ironic illustration of English modesty? How the artist managed to screw up this gig is a mystery, but the royals are too polite to complain, so that’s that, it seems.
But is it? It appears, according to the haul from the recent hacking of the Bush family’s e-mail accounts, that Bush 43 is a painter. I like these paintings, and it seems I’m not alone. Here’s Vanity Fair’s Bruce Handy:
I like him as an artist. For amateur works, these are well done and surprisingly sophisticated, even enigmatic. My colleague Juli Weiner aptly notes a resemblance to the work of Alex Katz. I’d go further and say that, whatever Bush cedes to Katz in terms of technique and composition, he gains in mystery and psychological complexity.
And here’s New York Magazine‘s Jerry Saltz:
I love these two bather paintings. They are “simple” and “awkward,” but in wonderful, unself-conscious, intense ways. They show someone doing the best he can with almost no natural gifts — except the desire to do this. The reclusion and seclusiveness of the pictures evoke the quietude (though not the insight, quality, or genius) of certain Chardin still lifes.
Kate, please believe me when I tell you that everybody hates your new official portrait. Why not give 43 a call? He’s got the time, and he’s an up-and-comer. He might need to have some running water in the frame somewhere, but he’s not going to give you jowls. Give it some thought.
[PS: This gives us a good excuse to revisit George and Laura Bush’s delightful visit to the Obama White House to unveil their own official portraits. George’s comments begin at 11:30.]