Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, by Stuart Pearson Wright
In 2004 Stuart Pearson Wright was given the green light by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to do his royal portrait. The Duke declined an invitation to model at the artist’s studio, an old sausage factory in east London. Instead he insisted that Stuart came to Buckingham palace for four one-hour sessions (sixteen short of the recommended 20 sessions).
The title of the resulting work is Homo sapiens, Lepidium sativum and Calliphora vomitoria, which is essentially a pretentious Latin translation of “a wise man, some cress, and a bluebottle”. It does exactly what it says on the tin. The bluebottle might seem completely random, and to a large extent it is. But it does derive from the Vanitas tradition in art, which interpolates a worm-eaten apple or falling rose or something similar to tie us to nature and remind us that all flesh is grass.
The cress, according to the artist, is a reference to the Prince as seed-bearer to the royal family (good luck trying to get that image out of your head). And then there’s the chest hair. No, it’s not Philip’s torso. It belongs to an anonymous, elderly gentleman who lives in London’s Bethnal Green. Apparently he was rather startled that his chest had ended up superimposed on the Duke of Edinburgh, but also quite flattered.
The portrait didn’t go down terribly well with the Duke. At the end of the first hour’s sitting, Philip peeked over the artist’s shoulder and in horror exclaimed, “Godzooks!” which, after looking up, I can tell you is an archaic English term for God’s hooks, and means to say he didn’t like it. After the fourth and final sitting, Pearson Wright asked the Duke whether he thought he’d captured a resemblance. “I bloody well hope not,” was his concise response.
Unsurprisingly the portrait doesn’t hang in Buckingham Palace or Balmoral. Deemed “inappropriate by the Royal Society of Arts, it was kept by the artist who put it on sale for £25,000. A head and shoulders version greets startled visitors to the RSA’s Strand Headquarters. The Duke of Edinburgh has apparently yet to visit.