Kate Middleton goes solo: Duchess of Cambridge visits Lucian Freud exhibition at National Portrait Gallery

Kate goes solo: Duchess of Cambridge carries out first public engagement without Wills as she visits Lucian Freud exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery

The Duchess of Cambridge looked buoyed and confident as she embarked on her first solo engagement since joining the royal family.

Kate was attending a private viewing of a new exhibition of portraits by the late Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery in London, of which she recently became royal patron.

If she was nervous at striking out on her own at long last she didn't show it.

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The Duchess of Cambridge

The Duchess of Cambridge

The Duchess opted for a grey tweed coat dress
by High Street label Jesire stores – which
had a large shawl collar and a black belt around her trim waist for her first solo engagement since joining the royal family

Arriving at the gallery she mingled with arty types including photographer Mary McCartney, Bella Freud, the artist's daughter, and Jefferson Hack.

The Duchess wore a grey tweed coat dress by High Street label Jesire – stocked by many department stores – which had a large shawl collar and a black belt around her trim waist. Dresses within the Jesire range retail for around 150.

She completed the outfit with a chunky diamond bracelet and vertiginous heels.

Her hair looked gleaming thanks to a four hour session in top London salon Richard Ward on Monday.

Although she attended a private fundraising dinner on behalf of Prince Charles last year, last night’s visit to the hugely-anticipated exhibition was the first time she has appeared in public without her husband, Prince William, by her side.

Duchess of Cambridge

Duchess of Cambridge

The Duchess' hair looked gleaming thanks to a four hour session in top London salon Richard Ward

The Duchess of Cambridge shakes hands with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt during her gallery visit

The Duchess of Cambridge shakes hands with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt during her gallery visit

Duchess of Cambridge

Duchess of Cambridge

Star style: The Duchess completed her outfit with a chunky diamond bracelet and vertiginous heels

The 30-year-old duchess is taking
advantage of the prince’s controversial six week deployment to the
Falkland Islands in order to make her mark as a working member of the
Royal Family.

Despite
being married for almost ten months, Kate has declined to carry out any
engagements on her own, preferring to learn the ropes at William’s side.

However
she now believes she is ready to put what she has learnt into practice
and aides agree that the future king’s absence is a good opportunity.

‘She is raring to go,’ said an aide.

As
well as last night’s low-key visit to the NPG she will also undertake a
high-profile ‘away day’ in Liverpool on Valentine’s Day next week.

It is refreshing having her here. It is so
exciting that she has become involved…

Kate will visit The Brink, an
alcohol-free bar linked to Action on Addiction, of which she became
patron of last month, as well as the world-famous Alder Hey Children’s
Hospital.

Yesterday,
however, it was very much about the Duchess’s personal passion – she
studied history of art at St Andrew’s University, where she met Prince
William, coming away with an eminently respectable 2:1.

The prince initially enrolled on the same degree but switched after his first year to study geography.

With more than 100 paintings and works on paper loaned from museums and
private collections throughout the world, Lucian Freud Portraits is the
result of many years planning by the gallery in close partnership with
the late artist himself. Freud died in July 2011 at the age of 88.

It features many of his most important portraits from the 1940’s right through to his last, unfinished work.

Sitters represented in the exhibition
include family members, particularly his mother Lucie, and artists such
as Francis Bacon and David Hockney.

The exhibition also includes his
famous 1995 nude portrait of Sue Tilley ‘Benefits Supervisor’, which
sold in 2008 for a record-breaking 17.2m – making it the most valuable
painting ever to be sold by a living artist.

Jefferson Hack

Bella Freud

Mary McCartney

The Duchess met arty types including (from left) Jefferson Hack, Bella Freud and Mary McCartney

The Duchess shakes hands with Bella Freud as she is shown around the exhibition

The Duchess shakes hands with Bella Freud as she is shown around the exhibition

Freud's portrait of the Queen remains one of the most unusual and controversial depictions of the British monarch

A painting, entitled 'Self Portrait, Reflection', by Lucien Freud

Freud's portrait of the Queen remains one of the
most unusual and controversial depictions of the British monarch (left)
a painting, entitled 'Self Portrait, Reflection' (right)

Regarded as one of the most important
painters of modern times, Freud was known for his intensely realist
portraits, particularly of nudes.

Born in Berlin, he was the grandson
of Sigmund Freud, the leading pioneer of modern psychoanalysis, but
moved to London when the Nazis rose to power.

He became a naturalised British
subject and spent almost his entire working life based in London, where
the twice-married painter surrounded himself by beautiful younger women,
including the model Kate Moss, who also posed for him.

Freud remained totally dedicated to
his work, painting long hours every day well into his late 80s in a
sustained bid to complete his life's work before death overtook him.

Among his most famous subjects was
Queen Elizabeth II, who posed after extensive negotiations between the
palace and the painter.

The colourful portrait, which the
artist donated to the queen's collection, remains one of the most
unusual and controversial depictions of the British monarch but is not
featured in the current exhibition.

The Duchess told photographer Mary McCartney that she had been looking up her work on her website and she was 'hugely impressed' by it.

'It made me blush but I was
incredibly flattered. It is refreshing having her here. It is so
exciting that she has become involved, ' the photographer said.

She was shown round the exhibition by the director of the gallery, Sandy Nairne, looking at a small section of self portraits, a painting of Freud's first wife, Kitty, and dwelled for a moment on 'Pregnant Girl', an oil on canvas from 1961.

Although his portrait of the Queen is not displayed there is a photograph of him painting the monarch.

His portrait of Andrew Parker Bowles, ex husband of the Duchess of Cornwall, is also on display.

Impressive: Three of the paintings Kate saw as she was shown around by gallery director Sandy Nairne

Impressive: Three of the paintings Kate saw as she was shown around by gallery director Sandy Nairne

The Freud exhibition features some of the late artist's most impressive works, dating from 1940 to the piece he was working on when he passed away

The Freud exhibition features some of the late artist's most impressive works, dating from 1940 to the piece he was working on when he passed away

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