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Painting Catherine Middleton

Painting Catherine Middleton

In an exclusive initiative, The Weekly commissioned South Australian artist Robert Hannaford to capture Catherine in an oil portrait. Here, editor-in-chief Helen McCabe talks to the artist as he works.

On a warm autumn day, portrait artist Robert Hannaford is standing outside a rustic farmhouse on a small hill, not far from the Clare Valley in South Australia.

It is a relief to see him looking fit and well. Five years ago, the 64-year-old was diagnosed with tongue cancer and there is some concern that he is still frail. Yet on this glorious afternoon, the artist known to his friends and family as "Alfie" is showing no signs of the aggressive illness which nearly claimed his life.

In person, he is tall, thin and strikingly handsome. As one of Australia's best-known and best-loved realist artists, Alfie has painted virtually every significant figure in this country, from AFL legend Nathan Buckley to former Prime Minister Paul Keating.

This month, he has produced a portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge for The Australian Women's Weekly.

Alfie explains how he painted her from one of a series of photographs we sent him. "I believe it [the photo] was taken a couple of years ago. She looks a bit chubbier than she did at the wedding, but I don't think that matters.

"I chose it because I thought it was the one that said the most about her. I think it was a candid shot; the others were posed. I liked this one because of the humanity and it showed her character."

The studio where Alfie works is littered with pictures of the young duchess. A vase of roses, given to him by his mother, sits beside a palette of paint and a giant Labrador lies sound asleep in the middle of the room.

Although the Archibald Prize has always eluded him, Alfie has won the People's Choice award three times — a self-portrait in 1996, academic Professor Rolf Prince in 1998 and historian Hugh Stretton in 1991.

Yet Alfie made a living from his work from an early age and is equally sought after for his landscapes and, lately, his sculptures.

"I was cartoonist on [Adelaide's] The Advertiser for three years and that gave me plenty of money when I was 19 to 22," he says. "So I had enough money to think I could make a go of it as a full-time artist and I immediately won the A.M.E. Bale Art scholarship [in 1969] in Melbourne.

"From about 1970 on, I got portrait commissions just by word of mouth. I've painted people such as Joan Sutherland and Donald Bradman.

"I've made a pretty good living from portrait painting ever since those early days, but I've always painted everything. I love landscapes and, more recently, sculpture.

"I've just done Simpson and his donkey for the Adelaide City Council and I did Bradman outside the Adelaide Oval about 10 years ago."

Alfie admits he's lucky to be fit and healthy again and, like so many people who survive cancer, says it has taught him to savour each and every day.

Read more of this story in the June issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.

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