Princess Diana

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  • Provenance

    Frederick W. Hughes, New York
    Sotheby's, New York, Ten Paintings by Andy Warhol from the Collection of Frederick W. Hughes, 3 May 1993, lot 25
    Private Collection, Japan
    Sotheby's, London, Contemporary Art, 15 October, 2007, lot 283
    Private Collection

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Fantasy love is much better than reality love. Never doing it is very exciting. The most exciting attractions are between two opposites that never meet.” ANDY WARHOL

    Instantaneously recognizable as both a product of Andy Warhol’s artistic output and a portrayal of one of the most iconic women of the twentieth century, Princess Diana epitomizes the trajectory of the modern art world. The painting was executed in 1982 shortly after the marriageof Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles, though the source, the couple’s official engagement photograph, was taken by Lord Snowdon the previous year. This image of Diana, the supposed future Queen of England, clothed in a regal gown and embellished by the opulent royal jewels, was in itself famous, internationally replicated and published. Out of Warhol’s obsession with the cult of celebrity arose a capability to raise the status of even the most iconic persona. Warhol selected timeless images, such as Charles and Diana’s engagement photograph, because these, and the persons they depict, embody the zeitgeist of their time.

    Described as the court painter to the 70s (Andy Warhol Portraits of the Seventies and Eighties, London, 1993), Warhol’s name is synonymous with America’s equivalent to English royalty – celebrities. Warhol’s 1950s shoe drawings are evident of his early fascination with fame; each shoe is titled with the name of a celebrity, such as Elvis Presley, Mae West, and Judy Garland. Beginning in the 60s with Troy Donahue, Marilyn Monroe, and Liz Taylor, Warhol set up a series of portraits that depict the cultural icons of his day. Warhol was interested in movie stars above all else because he desired his art to concern the most important issues of contemporary life, and these figures were seen as the closest to representatives of mass culture. By offering people access to movie stars, Warhol’s works emphasized the unattainable essence of stardom. Not only did they strengthen the iconoclasm of these public figures, they also heightened Warhol’s own fame and wealth.

    The present work, in hindsight, is comparable to the images of Marilyn and Jackie that Warhol created as memento mori closely after the former’s premature death and the latter’s horrific experience of death. Iconic women whose lives’ ended in sorrow, Warhol called them the unconscious prelude to his Death and Disaster series. Warhol could not have predicted the untimely fate of Diana, but as with the portraits before, selected figures that epitomized the modern age having been procured as inspiration by the new generation. While Marilyn and Jakie were perceived as celebrity royalty, Diana was the bona fide English princess.

    The celebrity had become a figure whose personal life was entirely public, exposed to criticism and investigation. Evolving out of this heightened fascination, and creating a new manner of employment for the photographic image, the paparazzi became the official documenter of the celebrity. Warhol used images taken from the media as the source for his portraits. Iconic in their own right, these images ultimately illustrate the tragic consequences of fame. As time passes the poignancy of these images grow, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Warhol’s portrait of Princess Diana. Thrust into the public sphere, Diana’s story was seen as the ultimate princess fairytale. However, it was as a result of fame and the prying media that her premature death transpired. Fifteen years after Warhol immortalized Diana, the tragic event of her death has radically transformed this portrait and it stands as the ultimate paradigm to the artist’s fixation with celebrity and the vulnerability of human life. In the twentieth century, hastened by photographic advancements, the tradition of portrait painting was seen as a dying art. Warhol adopted and re-evaluated this genre, taking photographic images and transforming them back into ‘fine art’. Portraits are linked by the desire of a spectator to know about a real person or event. By procuring the most celebrated and iconic figures, Warhol consequently flung the genre into the forefront of the modern world. Princess Diana and the complimenting Prince Charles reflect Warhol’s knowledge and understanding of the history of portrait painting. The artist borrowed from Allan Ramsay’s coronation portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte, of which Warhol owned fine copies, and infused them with a modern energy to generate a new contemporary aesthetic.

    The manner in which Warhol simultaneously created portraits of the celebrated icons of modernity and horrifying images of electric chairs and car crashes, indicates the artist’s place in history as a numb voyeur of twentieth century life. Appropriating pictures, his work questions the notion of authorship and in doing so detaches any subjectivity from the image. In the case of the present work, the viewer is left with the confusing question of how to read and digest such an iconic image infused with associations of tragedy and death.

  • Artist Bio

    Andy Warhol

    American • 1928 - 1987

    Andy Warhol was the leading exponent of the Pop Art movement in the U.S. in the 1960s. Following an early career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol achieved fame with his revolutionary series of silkscreened prints and paintings of familiar objects, such as Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe. Obsessed with popular culture, celebrity and advertising, Warhol created his slick, seemingly mass-produced images of everyday subject matter from his famed Factory studio in New York City. His use of mechanical methods of reproduction, notably the commercial technique of silk screening, wholly revolutionized art-making.

    Working as an artist, but also director and producer, Warhol produced a number of avant-garde films in addition to managing the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground and founding Interview magazine. A central figure in the New York art scene until his untimely death in 1987, Warhol was notably also a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.


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Princess Diana

synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas
127 x 107 cm (50 x 42 1/8 in)
Signed and dated 'Andy Warhol 82' and stamped by the Estate of Andy Warhol and numbered 'VFA493.114' on the overlap.

£900,000 - 1,200,000 

sold for £993,250

Contemporary Art Evening

28 June 2012