the Breeze

How A Cheeky Idea Became an Island Artist's Royal Portrait

May 13, 2014

Nearly 12 months ago, an island inspiration ended up becoming a Macleay Island artist's portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge that is now headed for Kensington Palace in London.

The inspiration for the concept came from managing editor of The Friendly Bay Islander, Gerard Thompson.

"It was about the time the 'official portrait' of the Duchess of Cambridge was unveiled in London.

"Like many interested others, I went online and searched for the painting.

"And like many others, I thought the youth, beauty and vitality of the Duchess could have been more enhanced," Gerard Thompson said.

"My first thought was that Macleay Island artist David Wells could possibly produce an artwork that could tell a different and more vibrant story about the Duchess.

"I dwelt on it for a time, and ran into David one day and put the concept to him.

"His initial reaction, although cautious, was also encouraging.

"We agreed to start 'looking' for an appropriate image of the Duchess that might make an agreeable subject.

"We also agreed that we would keep the project a 'secret' until such time as the work was completed. Only a few people became involved who assisted in the process.

"I also undertook to record a photographic and HD movie of the progress of the artwork that we may turn into a documentary at a later date."

Gerard Thompson said he was aware of David's extraordinary detail in his artwork that could produce a stunning result, with the right picture to work from.

Neither David nor Gerard thought that the process to find the 'right' image of the Duchess would take so long.

"After weeks of searching, I eventually found the image I thought best portrayed the youth, vitality and vibrancy of the Duchess," David Wells said.

It was a photograph of the Duchess taken at a polo match in California on July 9, 2011.

At the time, it was almost impossible to work out who actually took the photograph of the Duchess.

David started work on the project, ever mindful that copyright could prove a difficulty at a later date.

Several weeks down the track and several 'false trails' brought Macleay resident Linda Upton into the framework to assist in hunting down the photography 'culprit'.

Linda used her museum research skills to finally trace the photographer to Tim Rooke of Rex Features. 

An approach to Rex Features was very positive and a reply from Glen Marks only last month gave approval for the use of the photograph.

The original concept was to produce a stunning painting of the Duchess, but only release its details after the quality of the result was known.

Things changed dramatically when it was revealed just prior to Christmas that the HRH Prince William Duke of Cambridge and his wife HRH Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge would be visiting Australia in 2014.

Could the portrait be given to the Royal Couple on their visit?

With their visit to Queensland set for Easter Saturday, April 19, David had a timeline and some considerable hurdles of protocol had to be overcome.

Member for Redlands, Peter Dowling, passed on the procedures required.

Gerard Thompson sent off 'official' applications via 'Protocol' at the Queensland Premier's Office and the Office of the Prime Minister.

We were told that Kensington Palace has to first recognise and 'accept' the Gift on behalf of the Royal Couple.

It was only about two weeks before the Royal Visit that 'acceptance' notification was received from Kensington Palace via the Queensland Premier's Protocol section.

The pressure was now on David to 'finish' the artwork'.

He finally did so with partner Karen Foster giving him huge encouragement and providing drink and food at appropriate times - "once he gets involved he forgets to eat and drink", she said.

He had been working on the painting for nearly three months continually and when you see the detail in the finished work, you can understand why.

Island art supporters of David also became involved, particularly Ted and Linda Upton and Maddi and Peter Ekeblad.

With the Royal Couple only days away from arriving in Australia and Queensland, we were told by 'Protocol' that the painting had to be in their office two days prior to their 'official visit' so the painting could be cleared to go with the Royal Couple on their plane when they left Queensland.

It was also explained that the Gift could not be an 'official gift' on behalf of the people of Queensland.

It could only be given by David as a 'personal gift', which he chose to do, but also personally on behalf of the artistic community on the Southern Moreton Bay Islands, Redland City Council and Queensland.

The final touches were only completed a week prior to the official visit, with David and Gerard heading to David's friend and framer Dave Whisker in Eumundi on the Sunshine Coast.

The artwork was now finally complete and there was just time for a quick showing of the painting on Macleay Island before it finally left the island.

In the meantime, Gerard had arranged Darren Curtis from Nine News to visit the island to shoot an exclusive interview, with follow-ups on Seven News, ABC Radio and commercial radio.

He also negotiated with Queens Plaza just off the Queen Street Mall in Brisbane to exhibit the painting prior to it being handed over to Protocol, on Easter Thursday.

Before the painting could be handed over, however, it had to be safely packaged.

And here, Peter and Maddi Ekeblad came to the fore with Peter constructing an appropriate container just hours before the event.

Redland City Council Mayor Karen Williams, Member for Redlands Peter Dowling and Cr Mark Edwards attended the 'unveiling' of the portrait at the Queens Plaza, as did hundreds of Queenslanders.

A hectic three-hour period of interviews with Seven News, signing autographs and answering questions followed for David.

With Ted and Linda Upton helping with transport and carrying, the portrait of the Duchess was finally packed and sealed after the exhibit with only minutes to spare to get it to the Protocol section at the Premier's Office, with Peter Dowling showing the way.

An exhausted, but pleased, David Wells, finally got to hand it over, just in time, to protocol officer Steve Webb.

The entire exercise was exhausting but satisfying.

The objective was to raise the profile of our islands and to show the artistic talent that exists here.

We believe all expectations were well and truly exceeded.

David Wells excelled and produced his best ever artwork.

A sample of island artwork will now hang in Kensington Palace.

And we reckon HRH  Prince William, Duke of Cambridge will enjoy the brilliant interpretation of his beautiful and vivacious wife, Catherine!

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