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British Royals

Rare portrait of Diana, Princess of Wales on exhibit for the first time in London


John Mathew Smith/CC/Wikimedia Commons

A rare portrait of the late Princess of Wales is currently on display this summer in London. 

The portrait is an oil sketch done as a preliminary piece for Nelson Shanks’ full-length portrait. In it, Diana is wearing a dark green, velvet military-style Catherine Walker evening gown, but she wore a different ensemble for the final portrait. The green Catherine Walker dress has gone on display at Kensington Palace in the Diana: Her Fashion Story exhibition. 

In the sketch, her eyes are downcast, and her expression is serious, a different look from most of her portraits.

Princess Diana portrait
Courtesy Philip Mould & Company

The sketch was done in 1994, two years after The Prince and Princess of Wales announced their separation. Shanks completed several sketches in preparation for the portrait to capture several different emotions. 

The sketch was sold in January at Sotheby’s, where it went for nearly ten times its original estimate, selling at $201,600 USD. This is the first time that the sketch has gone on display since going up for auction. 

The late Princess of Wales sat for Shanks over thirty times, and she grew close with him throughout the process. As both her relationships with Charles and the Royal Family as a whole were chaotic, and the world’s media were hounding her relentlessly, Shanks made his studio a quiet and welcoming place. 

The sketch will be on display at the Masterpiece London Art Fair from 30 June to 6 July. 

Philip Mould & Company is responsible for displaying the piece, with Mould remarking: “As royal painted portraits go; it is extraordinarily rare for an artist to capture both the public and private character simultaneously. Shank’s sketch uniquely fuses Diana’s glamour with the affecting pathos of her final years. We felt it belonged in a British collection and are delighted to be able to display it in her home city.”

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Historian and blogger at AnHistorianAboutTown.com