Princess Diana | Masterpiece 2022
by Nelson Shanks
With the celebration of female glamour as our leading focus for Masterpiece 2022, we will be showcasing some extraordinary works from a broad selection of artists. One work highlight is Nelson Shanks’ highly emotive portrait of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Painted from life in 1994, this extraordinary head study of Diana, Princess of Wales can rightly be described as the most affecting painted portrait of the ‘People’s Princess’. The composition which Nelson puts Diana in is informal in character creating a significant iconographic addition to twentieth century British royal history.
This work is a preparatory head sketch for a later official portrait which is now at Althorp house. The sittings for this portrait took place as Diana's personal life dived into turmoil, and over the course of thirty sittings and thirty-five hours, Shanks' London studio became a place of solace for Diana as is evident in this work. Diana became close friends with both the artist and his wife, Leona and later confided in a letter to Nelson and Leona that '…coming to the studio was a safe haven, so full of love and support.' It is perhaps the relationship the artist and sitter formed which makes this empathetic and honest portrait a significant addition to 20th century royal imagery.
The present work is preeminent amongst them for its depth of characterisation, showing the princess glancing downwards, as if caught in a moment of quiet introspection. During the initial sittings with Diana, Nelson made several quick studies, capturing authentic expressions which are strikingly honest.
Diana was regarded as one of the most fashionable women of her day and one of her best-known garments from the mid-1990s was the green velvet halter dress by Catherine Walker which she is shown wearing in this portrait. Diana was photographed by Mario Testino wearing the dress for the June 1997 issue of Vanity Fair and it was more recently included in an exhibition on Diana's fashion legacy Diana: Her Fashion Story at Kensington Palace in 2017.
With female glamour being our Masterpiece leading focus, this portrait of Diana certainly holds the elegance which she extended toward the British public but also, the rest of the world.
Masterpiece is open until Wednesday the 6th of July 2022.