Mayukh Saha
Mayukh Saha
June 11, 2024 ·  5 min read

15+ Portraits of Famous People That Don’t Look Like Them At All

Step right up and prepare to be amazed, or perhaps baffled, by these 15+ portraits of famous people that are, quite frankly, far from the truth! From questionable artistic interpretations to downright misleading depictions, we’ve gathered a collection of portraits that will leave you scratching your head and wondering, “Is that really what they looked like?”

1. Catherine, Princess of Wales (born Catherine Elizabeth Middleton, 1982 — present)

A recently revealed portrait of Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales, has garnered significant attention and controversy. The painting, created by artist Alastair Barford, features Middleton wearing an emerald green gown and looking away from the viewer. While some have praised the artist’s unique vision, many have criticized the portrait for its lack of resemblance to the Princess, with one comment stating, “This looks nothing like the Princess of Wales. It’s so awful, it’s disrespectful.” The more recent portraits of famous people seem to stir quite a bit of controversy.

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2. Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the mother of Queen Elizabeth II (1900 — 2002)

Portrait by Reginald Grenfield Eves, 1924
Image Credits: FineArtComissions

Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon’s portraits often depict her as a serene and elegant figure, but many argue that these images fail to capture her lively and robust personality. Critics say the artworks present an overly idealized version of the Queen Mother, making her appear more like a fairy-tale queen than the real woman she was.

3. Queen Victoria (1819 — 1901)

Queen Victoria in her coronation clothes, by Franz Xavier Winterhalter, 1859
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Portraits of Queen Victoria frequently show her as a stern, unsmiling monarch, which has contributed to her historical image as a dour ruler. However, those who knew her personally described her as having a lively sense of humor and a warm, engaging personality, a stark contrast to the severe figure we often see in art.

4. Sophie of Württemberg, Queen of the Netherlands (1818 — 1877)

Sophie of Württemberg
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Portraits of Sophie of Württemberg tend to depict her as a composed and stately queen, but historical accounts suggest she was often embroiled in court intrigues and personal dramas. The polished, serene images fail to reflect the tumultuous aspects of her reign and personal life.

5. Charlotte of Belgium (1840 — 1927)

Charlotte of Belgium by Santiago Rebull, 1867
Image Credits: Wikipedia

Charlotte of Belgium’s portraits often show her as a regal and composed empress, but her life was far from serene. After the tragic end of her husband’s reign, she spent much of her life in seclusion, dealing with mental health issues. The portraits do not convey the sorrow and challenges she faced. An unique among the portraits of famous people.

6. Maria Christina of Austria, Queen-consort of Spain (1858 — 1929)

Portrait by Franzen, 1906
Image Credits: Wikipedia

Maria Christina’s portraits typically present her as a calm and dignified queen-consort, but her role was far more dynamic. She was a strong political figure who acted as regent for her son and played a crucial role in Spanish politics, a depth of character not fully captured in her portraits.

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7. Mary of Teck, the spouse of George V (1867 — 1953)

Mary of Teck
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Mary of Teck’s portraits often show her as a reserved and distant queen, but she was known for her keen interest in the arts and active involvement in charitable causes. The stiff, formal images fail to reflect her passionate and dedicated nature.

8. Isabella II of Spain (1830 — 1904)

Isabella II of Spain
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Isabella II’s portraits usually depict her as a regal and composed monarch, but her reign was marked by political turmoil and personal scandal. The polished images obscure the complexities and controversies of her time as queen.

9. Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, Queen Victoria’s fifth daughter (1857 — 1944)

Princess Beatrice of the UK
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Princess Beatrice’s portraits frequently show her as a demure and dutiful daughter, but she was also a determined and influential figure in her own right. Her active role in preserving Queen Victoria’s legacy and her own political engagements are often downplayed in the artwork.

10. Maria Luisa of Bourbon-Parma, Princess-consort of Bulgaria (1870 — 1899)

Maria Luisa of Parma
Image Credits: Wikipedia

Portraits of Maria Luisa often present her as a delicate and refined princess, but she was a strong and influential figure during her short life. The idealized images fail to capture her resilience and the impact she had on Bulgarian society.

11. Princess Helena of the United Kingdom (1846 — 1923)

Portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1865) of Princess Helena
Image Credits: Wikipedia

Princess Helena’s portraits usually show her as a serene and composed member of the royal family, but she was also a dedicated philanthropist and writer. Her contributions to charitable causes and literature are often overshadowed by her formal and reserved portrayal in art.

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12. Victoria, Princess Royal, German Empress (1840 — 1901)

Heinrich von Angeli - Victoria, Princess Royal, 1876
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Victoria, Princess Royal’s portraits often depict her as a stately and elegant empress, but her life was marked by political and personal challenges. The serene images do not reflect the struggles she faced in her role and her efforts to modernize German society.

13. Alexandra of Denmark, the spouse of Edward VII (1844 — 1925)

Alexandra of Denmark, 1862 by Lauchert
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Alexandra’s portraits typically show her as a graceful and poised queen, but she was known for her vibrant social life and fashion influence. The formal and composed images do not capture her dynamic personality and significant impact on British society.

14. Princess Alice of Battenberg, the mother-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II (1885 — 1969)

Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark by Philip de László, 1922.
Image Credits: Wikipedia

Princess Alice’s portraits often present her as a serene and dignified royal, but her life was full of dramatic events and personal challenges. From her philanthropic work to her time spent in a mental institution, the idealized portraits do not convey the depth of her experiences.

15. Vincent van Gogh (1853 — 1890)

Image Credits: Wikipedia

Vincent van Gogh’s self-portraits are famous, but they often depict him in a calm and introspective state, which contrasts sharply with the turbulent emotions and mental health struggles he experienced throughout his life. The serene images belie the intense and often chaotic reality of his existence.

16. Michelle Obama (1964 — )

Portraits of famous people 16 - michelle obama
Image Credits: Amy Sherald

There was considerable hue and cry over the revelation of Michelle Obama’s portrait. Her portrait was drawn to be included in the National Portrait Gallery, as she was a former first lady of the United States. However, at the unveiling event, many people were of the opinion that the portrait looked nothing like the first lady.

These portraits of famous people remind us that art often tells only part of the story. The truth behind these images can be far more complex and fascinating than the faces we see on canvas.

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