The Duchess Turns 40: Three New Formal Portraits Mark the Occasion

Happy 40th birthday wishes to the Duchess of Cambridge!  To mark the occasion, three new photo portraits of the Duchess were released today.

The images were shot in November at Temperate House in Kew Gardens by photographer Paolo Roversi. They will become part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery, of which The Duchess is Patron. More about the photographer via this story in Art and Commerce. 

Paolo Roversi is a photographer best known for his striking, intimate portraiture and classical visual language. His photographs occupy a realm between the past and present, resulting in imagery that feels at once progressive and familiar.

Roversi is the recipient of numerous awards and his photographs have been featured in a variety of monographs and exhibitions. His work has appeared in Italian VogueVogue UKVogue ParisVanity FairW Magazine and i-D. He has created campaigns for Dior, Cerruti, Comme des Garçons, Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino and Alberta Ferretti. He is the author of the 2020 Pirelli Calendar.

Artsy notes “born in Ravenna, Italy in 1947, [he] has lived and worked in Paris for over 35 years.” 

Here is the second photo. 

Stylistically, these images are intended to be different from a standard posed photograph, created to transcend an ordinary photo portrait. We learn more from Hannah Furness in her column for The Telegraph. 

The Duchess, who marks her milestone birthday on Sunday, has posed for a series of images for the National Portrait Gallery, as she uses her education in the history of art to help curate her own image for posterity.

Taking influence from the work of era-defining royal photographers such as Cecil Beaton, the Duchess has also channelled her admiration for Victorian photography for a series of three very different images.

One, in which the Duchess is captured in profile, is reminiscent of the young Queen Victoria and shows the modern mother-of-three in regal serenity.

A second, also in sepia tones, is more intimate, seeing her look directly at the camera with a beaming smile in a pose echoing Diana, Princess of Wales in her Mario Testino photoshoots.

We return to Hannah’s Telegraph piece. 

The photographs are the most heavily symbolic of any taken of the Duchess in her royal life so far.

They are intended to capture the family and creative influences in her life, paying tribute to the taste of the young Queen and her mother, Queen Elizabeth, whose image was so often captured by Beaton in a similar style.

The Duchess, who studied the history of art at St Andrew’s University, initiated a video call with Roversi to share her photographic inspiration, with reference points from the Royal Family’s history and beyond.

Many found the third photo reminiscent of the iconic portrait of Empress Elizabeth of Austria painted in 1865 by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. (Much more info here.)

The comments on social media referencing Cecil Beaton also feel spot-on, especially his use of a softer focus.   

The photos were taken at the same location where the Duke and Duchess hosted a Generation Earthshot event last October.

More information comes via a Kensington Palace news release: 

Ahead of the Gallery’s re-opening in 2023, the photographs will feature as part of its Coming Home projecta nationwide initiative which sees portraits of well-known individuals being sent to locations which they are closely associated with. The project has enabled works from the National Portrait Gallery’s national Collection to travel to towns and cities across the UK, providing communities with the opportunity to see famous works locally.

The new images of The Duchess will be displayed over the course of 2022 in three places which have a special meaning to Her Royal Highness: Berkshire, St Andrews and Anglesey.  

Other thoughts on the photos shared on social media include this perspective. 

Here is another comment from social media. 

In advance of the occasion, many of the Duchess’s patronages have been posting birthday sentiments and best wishes on social media. Below, a tweet from one of her first patronages, EACH (East Anglias’ Children’s Hospices). 

The next post is from The Foundling Museum.  

Now for a look at what Kate wore in the new photos.  All three pieces are by Alexander McQueen.  The red dress looks like a version of the Asymmetric Draped-Sleeve Dress shown below, with thanks to innominate on Twitter for the ID. The Duchess appears to be wearing The Queen’s Diamond Frame Earrings in the color photo. Below, HM wearing the earrings for the State Opening of Parliament in 2012; Kate is shown wearing them to a 2016 Place2Be function.

A closer look. 

The savvy team at UFO No More suggests the ruffled gown worn in the medium close-up could be the One-Shoulder Ruffle Gown from the label’s Pre-Spring/Summer ’22 Collection.  The Collection is described as being “…inspired by the English poet, painter and printmaker William Blake who was born in London in 1757.”

Hannah Furness reports in her Telegraph story that one of the dresses “…incorporates silk jacquard, lace, organza and tulle repurposed from previous collections in an effort to improve sustainability.” I would speculate this is the piece she was referencing. Here is a full-length look at the design.

The Duchess appears to be wearing the Collingwood earrings that belonged to Diana, Princess of Wales, in at least one of the two black and white photos. In one of the shots, it appears she also has on a pearl bracelet.  Below, the Duchess wearing the earrings at previous engagements.  

Here is a little closer look. 

Laura pointed out the lines of the third dress echo those of the Alexander McQueen lavender evening gown worn by the Duchess. 

The debate about today’s images reminds me a little of the conversation surrounding the 2013 unveiling of the National Portrait Gallery’s first portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge. That image was painted by artist Paul Elmsley.

To mark the Duchess’s birthday, I have a multi-part series of posts starting on Monday. They cover her style over the years, its evolution, and look ahead to what we might see in the future.  

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