A portrait of a modern monarchy: Informal picture shows happy
and relaxed Royal Family rubbing shoulders with the Middletons
- Official photography has a relaxed and happy ambience at odds with formal portraits of yesteryear
- Middletons – the descendants of coal miners – stand side-by-side with Dukes, Princes and the Queen
- They were taken by celebrity photographer Jason Bell
It is a fascinating blend of well-trodden history and social mobility.
Clustered around a Chippendale sofa in the sunbathed Morning Room of Clarence House, this new group photograph of the Windsor and Middleton dynasties is arguably the most intriguing of the christening portraits released yesterday.
Despite the Queen’s presence and the rather Victorian familial grouping, there is a decidedly relaxed air to the picture, a portrait of a Royal Family for the modern age.
Indeed, aside from the Queen, the most magisterial figure is the Duchess of Cambridge’s younger brother James, whose beard makes him look uncannily like his nephew’s great, great, great-grandfather, King George V, or even a younger looking Prince Michael of Kent.
The official portrait for the christening of Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge, photographed in The Morning Room at Clarence House in London yesterday
Joyful: Prince George appears happy and healthy with his mother and father, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
Kate’s family – her former air hostesses turned multi-millionaire entrepreneur mother, Carole, genial father Michael, and scene-stealing sister, Pippa – are positioned around Prince William.
In contrast Kate, whose ancestors were Durham coal miners and men of the soil, is grouped with the rest of the Royal Family – a dapper-looking Duke of Edinburgh, belying his 92 years and recent ill-health, grandparents Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, and a cheeky-looking doting uncle Prince Harry.
One can only assume that celebrity photographer Jason Bell, whose previous subjects have included David Beckham and actress Scarlett Johansson, diplomatically chose to place them that way rather than give an impression of ‘them and us’.
Proud parents William and Kate also pose for a charming frame by themselves with their son.
And as royal waves go, it isn’t a bad effort.
Indeed, at the age of just three months His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge shows a heartening enthusiasm for what will become a royal stock in trade.
Four generations: The current monarch, surrounded by Britain’s three future figureheads
Sat up on his delighted mother’s lap, his adorably chubby cheeks peeking out from the voluminous swathes of his Honiton lace christening gown, the new third in line to the throne is an unquestionably bonny lad.
Dressed in ruffled cream Alexander Queen and a Jane Taylor hat, his mother looks beautiful – as usual – although on closer inspection her eyes bear the battlescar bags so familiar of all new mothers.
William is clearly a proud dad and, leaning close in to his wife, a proud husband too.
But unlike his first official snapshot, so memorably taken by his grandfather, Michael Middleton, on a humble ‘sureshot’ in the family back garden, this first portrait is a more stilted affair.
The portraits were taken in The Morning Room at Clarence House, which was once the Breakfast Room in John Nash’s original design for the Duke of Clarence in 1825.
It is an elegant drawing room whose windows allow the light to flood in, bathing its occupants and furniture in a flattering glow.
The christening group is seated around a sofa which is part of a much-admired suite of gilt-wood seat furniture by Thomas Chippendale which dates from about 1773.
It is thought to have been commissioned by George III’s brother (the Duke of Gloucester) and was in the Royal Collection by the Reign of George IV.
On the cabinet visible to the left of the sofa is a bronze bust of Princess Elizabeth made by William Lamb in 1933. A matching bust of Princess Margaret is on the opposite side of the room.
On the wall above this cabinet to the left of the sofa is a portrait painted in oil ‘Their Royal Highnesses The Princess Elizabeth and The Princess Margaret in Windsor Great Park’, 1945, by Frederic Whiting.
There are also two photographs, alternatively visible in the images. One is of The Prince of Wales and Prince Harry in a Zulu Village – South Africa 1997.
Charles took his youngest son to the country in his half-term holiday of October that year following the tragic death of his mother just weeks earlier.
A further photograph of Prince Harry is also visible on a side table.
On the rear wall to the left of the window there is an oil on canvas painting entitled: ‘A Conversation Piece at Aintree: King George V and his Racing Manager’, c.1927-30, by Walter Richard Sickert. Beneath this is a painting by Laurence Stephen Lowry entitled ‘A Flyde Farm’, 1943.
On the rear wall to the right of the window is an oil on canvas painting entitled: ‘When Homer Nods: Portrait of George Bernard Shaw’ by Augustus Edwin John, 1915.
Beneath this is an oil on canvas painting entitled “The Lighthouse, Newhaven” by Duncan James Grant, c1939.
Clarence House is currently the official residence of Prince Charles and his wife, who moved in following the Queen Mother’s death in 2002.