Princess Diana poses for a portrait in 1990. She would have been 60 years old on July 1, 2021. Credit: Terence Donovan/Camera Press/Redux

‘Extraordinarily rare’ Princess Diana portrait goes on display in London

After recently transacting at auction, a rare portrait of Princess Diana, Princess of Wales, will be put on public display for the first time.

Three years prior to Diana’s passing in Paris, American artist Nelson Shanks completed the oil sketch in 1994 as a preliminary study for a formal full-length portrait. When it sold for $201,600 at a Sotheby’s auction in January, more than ten times its original estimate, it garnered media attention.


Credit: Courtesy Philip Mould & Company


The deceased princess is seen in the study with her eyes lowered, seemingly lost in thought. According to a press release from Philip Mould & Company, the London-based gallery displaying the work at the Masterpiece London Art Fair from 30 June to 6 July, the sketch was one of several used to capture “authentic expressions” that would eventually be used as source material for the final portrait.

She is pictured wearing Shanks’ original selection of clothing, a green velvet halter dress by Catherine Walker that she was also featured in a spread of Vanity Fair’s June 1997 issue. For the final photograph, she would later change into a more formal white blouse and blue skirt. It was hung at Kensington Palace, the royal residence, and then in Diana’s family home in Althorp, which is located about 90 miles northwest of London.


Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at Buckingham Palace on the day they announce their engagement in February 1981                   Photo: Getty Images


The final portrait required over 30 sittings at Shanks’ studio in London. During a trying time in her life when her marriage to Prince Charles was falling apart, Diana found solace in those sessions. She made friends with the artist and Leona, his wife, and later admitted in a letter that “coming to the studio was a safe haven, so full of love and support.”

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World-renowned for his portraits, Shanks, who passed away in 2015, painted figures such as Pope John Paul II, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, and US President Ronald Reagan. At the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, his official portrait of US President Bill Clinton is on display.


Lady Diana Spencer arrives at St. Paul’s Cathedral on her wedding day, revealing to the world the wedding dress which had been carefully guarded during its design.   Photo: Getty Images


According to the press release, gallerist Philip Mould said, “As far as royal painted portraits go, it is extraordinarily rare for an artist to capture both the public and private character simultaneously.” “In a unique way, Shank’s sketch combines Diana’s glitz with the heartbreaking pathos of her final years. We are thrilled to be able to display it in her hometown because we felt it belonged in a British collection.”

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