Hang Her High

(Printed in the "Huffington Post" on 29 Jan 2013 [ article ]. )

Terry Ward / GrumpyVisualArtist.BlogSpot.com

The recent kerfluffle over the official painting of Kate Middleton [ huffpo ] isn't the first portrait-related royal ruckus. The Telegraph and other UK sources are reporting that a long-disliked picture of Queen Elizabeth II will finally emerge from storage. Soon after the 1953 unveiling, the picture was criticized for being a weak likeness and for having distorted features like too much neck. The artist responded that he knew that the planned exhibit site would be up on a high wall and that the picture was intentionally somewhat distorted to account for the viewing angle.

Artist John Napper's 1953 coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II --promptly rejected and whisked into storage for six decades. (Photo by TrinityMirror.com via The Telegraph [ www ] used under journalistic/commentary "Fair Use" terms.)

Today's technology allows one to test the theory by digitally adding a perspective-shift to the image. (Presumably old-fashioned technology also could have worked since a large format camera's movable bellows can allow one to nudge the apparent perspective [ wiki ], though perhaps it wasn't tried then.)

Shifting the vertical perspective by -40% (a fair approximation of looking up toward a picture hung high up) creates these changes:

So indeed her neck shrinks a bit --though it still looks too big. Perhaps a somewhat-oversized neck is passable in the same way fashion images are often elongated.

(Shifting less than -40% made little noticeable change. Shifting more than -40% was bizarre: neck perhaps better-sized but topped by a pinhead --and with forearms inflated to Manchester steelworker proportions. Manhands on Her Royal Highness just won't do.)

Less obvious problems with the picture include:

1) Alignment of her skirt's horizontal color change area with the horizontal of the stair-step behind her (a compositional "fault" for which realist art instructors of the time would have downgraded any student), and

2) Confused rendering of linear perspective [ wiki ]. When lines recede into the background, their various angles should converge at geometrically-predictable "vanishing points", but the artist managed to muddle these. The nearest steps seem to have a vanishing point at odds with the steps further back; the column bases' vanishing points are elsewhere; and the horizontal floors appear oddly-tilted.

Remove the person and make this a perspective assignment in a high-end art academy and this would have been graded B+ if the teacher were in a forgiving mood.

Either way, it would seem like the picture would look at its best if indeed hung up high as the artist intended.

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