Saturday 8 April 2006

Mary's portrait stirs debate

Reaction to the Ralph Heimans painting has been mixed in various circles. Some seem to like it, while others are not so sure it represents Mary so well. Many agree it is a departure from conventional royal portraiture, which is met more by the Jiawei Shen portrait than by the Ralph Heimans. That is one issue. The other is how Mary is portrayed, with some suggestions we have still to see a portrait which shows her characteristics by looking more 'inside' the subject. To our readers, thank you for your comments, we are happy to receive more so you can share your own different responses.

The Sydney Morning Herald art critic John McDonald wrote:
IS PRINCESS MARY turning her back on Australia, or on the world of padded luxury one associates with the royal lifestyle? There will be a lot of debate about the symbolism of Ralph Heimans's portrait, regardless of any explanations from the artist.
I'm looking at a reproduction, so I can only comment on the quality of the image, not the actual painting. That image, however, is a fascinating, enigmatic one.
Not only is the painting free of the pomp and ceremony one finds in so many official portraits, it shows a kind of disdain for the palatial environment. Princess Mary is half in shadows, like a character in a film noir. She has one glove on, and one off. She is dressed in a demure brown suit, in a room filled with rich furnishings and decorations.
It could be argued that by turning her back on the mirror, Mary shows us she is untouched by her newfound celebrity. She remains, at heart, a straightforward Aussie girl.
On the other hand, if Heimans had called the picture "Homesickness", or "A Study in Alienation", it would be just as credible. Even the fact that Mary is standing rather than sitting suggests that she is less than comfortable in this ornate and artificial setting.
Over the centuries most artists have depicted royal figures as though they were sources of radiant light. By contrast, Ralph Heimans's portrait of Mary is a study in ambiguity, a symphony in shadows.

Meanwhile Sydney's The Sun Herald reports:
Portrait reveals Mary, princess who left her Aussie life behind

Past and present: Princess Mary and artist Ralph Heimans at the unveiling of her first official portrait, in Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark.
Photo: AP

By Rachel Browne and AAP
April 9, 2006

SHE rose from obscurity to become one of Australia's most recognisable women, but the first official portrait of Crown Princess Mary of Denmark says more about her private life than her public profile.
That was the verdict from artists and critics as Princess Mary's portrait was unveiled in Denmark yesterday.
The oil on canvas, which stands at 2.5 metres by 1.75 metres, was painted by Australian-born, Paris-based artist Ralph Heimans. It depicts the princess surrounded by the opulence of the 17th-century Frederiksborg Castle, north of Copenhagen, but turning away and staring wistfully into the middle distance.
While the princess has not offered a public opinion about her portrait, she thanked Heimans as she unveiled the painting in a ceremony at the castle.
She pulled a rope to remove a white cloth covering the painting, which reflects a second picture of the harbour in Hobart, alluding to the life she turned her back on as an Australian commoner to become a princess through marriage with Denmark's Crown Prince Frederik.
Former Archibald Prize winner Wendy Sharpe said the Heimans painting departed from the traditional formula for royal portraiture to illustrate Princess Mary's journey from a suburban upbringing in Hobart to her place in Europe's oldest monarchy.
"It's quite unorthodox. She is looking away from us - she is off to one side and we can actually see three images of her: her front, her back reflected in the mirror and her shadow," Sharpe said. "It makes you wonder what she is looking at. What is she thinking about? Her future? her past?"
An art dealer and author of How To Buy And Sell Art, Michael Reid, said the depiction of Hobart's Constitution Dock was clever.
"I think it reflects where she is now and where she has come from," he said. "Here she is, in this marvellous palace surrounded by all this baroque furniture and the trappings of royalty, and yet in the background you can clearly see Constitution Dock.
"It's quite an emotional portrait. If you look at the expression on her face, she has this distant stare - as if she is contemplating her past."
The painting was commissioned by the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle, and Heimans began work on in May last year.
It will be part of the museum's temporary exhibition, Australian Visits. After the unveiling, Princess Mary walked through the exhibition, which displays 50 portraits of famous Australians including Nicole Kidman, Cathy Freeman, Kylie Minogue, Nick Cave, Dame Edna and the late Errol Flynn.
When the exhibition ends on July 31, Heimans's portrait will remain at the Dutch Renaissance castle.
What the experts say
John McDonald, art critic: "Very ambiguous. You would expect
something much more formal but Heimans has tried to make her look
like an average girl."
Michael Mucci, 2006 Archibald Packing Room Prize winner: "The artist has really pushed the boundaries of traditional royal portraiture. It's quite multi-layered."
Wendy Sharpe, 1996 Archibald Prize winner: "Not the way you see royalty normally depicted. It tells an entire narrative about where she has come from." From: The Sun Herald

Some views of the exhibition, which includes the garments Mary wore for each of the portraits:

Archibald Prize 2006
Frederiksborg National History Museum

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