Andy Warhol - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 7, 2024 | Phillips

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  •  “I want to be as famous as the Queen of England.”
    —Andy Warhol


    More than any other artist, Andy Warhol redefined the role and visual language of the icon for the 20th century. Here a young and radiantly beautiful Lady Diana Spencer looks out at the viewer with an openness and warmth that would come in later years to define her as the ‘People’s Princess.’ Although it was then Prime Minister Tony Blair who immortalised her as such in the immediate wake of her tragic death, it was a phrase that captured the deep sentiments and sense of loss felt by a nation in mourning, reflecting the kindness and selfless charity that she demonstrated through her public engagements, and resonating deeply with Diana’s own comments in one 1995 interview that ‘I lead from the heart, not the head.’i


    Executed in 1982, following the wedding of Diana to Prince Charles the year before, the work is a strikingly tender portrait of the young princess, the prominent display of her engagement ring a poignant symbol not only of her marriage to Charles, but of her deep love and commitment for her people. Alongside Warhol’s defining Pop portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy, Portrait of Princess Diana exemplifies the artist’s unique ability to select timeless images that not only distill the captivating essence of his subjects, but that transform them - under the artist’s treatment - from celebrities into cultural icons of their time. While Marilyn embodied the combination of glamour and tragedy that would become synonymous with the age of celebrity, as First Lady, Jackie represented America’s own equivalent of the Modern Royal family, her vivacity, beauty, and faultless sense of style elevating her to an ideal of dutiful femininity for many American women echoed in the popular conception of Diana some decades later.


    [Left] Andy Warhol, Jackie (Smiling), 1964, Museo Jumex, Mexico City. Artwork: © 2024 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London
    [Right] The present work

    Queen of Hearts


    More than any other figure in the Royal Family, Diana’s youth, grace, and beauty captured the hearts and minds of the public, marking her as undoubtably one of the most iconic and adored women of the late 20th century. As Warhol so perceptively anticipated decades before, the rise of media technologies and the cult of celebrity ensured that her image was widely circulated throughout the 1980s and 90s, making her universally recognisable and blurring the boundaries between public image and the more complex contradictions of private life. It is perhaps this tension that initially drew Warhol to Diana, speaking as it does so directly to his own, long-standing fascination with the tensions between beauty and tragedy, glamour, and the darker underside of celebrity.


    The engagement of Charles and Diana in 1981 generated enormous public interest, with the young Diana followed by journalists and photographers trying to build a picture of this softly spoken, warm, glamourous, and refreshingly open future member of the Royal Family. Instantly winning over the British public, Diana seemed to offer a new, more modern face of the Royal Family, and the courtship was played out like a fairy-tale in the press leading up to the wedding day, which was itself televised to over 750 million viewers worldwide. Arranging the finely dressed couple in front of a rich, antique hanging tapestry, Lord Snowdon’s official engagement portrait of the two reinforced these ideas, Charles the dashing prince in full naval regalia with his demure bride-to-be and assumed future Queen of England seated beside him, hands folded gently in her lap.


    Lord Snowdon, Official Engagement portrait of Charles and Diana. Image: © Snowdon / Camera Press

    Reproduced and distributed worldwide, the portrait officially announced the couple as future leading Royals, in what for Warhol must have had certain resonances with the circulation of publicity shots used by film studios in the promotion of their new releases and leading stars. Famously, the image selected by Warhol in his infamous series of Marilyn screen print paintings had been just that - a publicity photo taken used to promote her 1953 film Niagara. As with Snowdon’s source photograph here, in selecting this particular image of Marilyn, Warhol also transformed it, cropping the image to bring Marilyn’s face more closely into focus and turning it into one of the most immediately recognisable motifs today. Similarly, in Portrait of Princess Diana Warhol drastically crops the image, removing Charles completely so as to focus our attention more directly on Diana’s enigmatic expression and magnetic appeal.


    In an important distinction however, Warhol’s depictions of Marilyn and Jackie were always already tinged with tragedy, memento mori pieces that were created shortly after the shocking and untimely deaths of Monroe and President Kennedy that Warhol would retrospectively link to his somewhat bleaker portrait of American culture explored in his Death and Disaster series. As in the haunting presentiment that now seems loaded in Diana’s comment ‘I’d like to be a queen of people’s hearts, in people’s hearts, but I don’t see myself being queen of this country’, the profound poignancy of Warhol’s Portrait of Princess Diana would only develop over time. As the years passed, the press focussed increasingly on her loneliness and isolation in the later years of her marriage while continuing to emphasise the kindness and love that she showed her people. This crystallised the popular image of her, which is now forever shadowed by the tragic events that led to her shocking death in Paris in 1997, and the national outpouring of grief that followed. Like Marilyn, in Portrait of Princess Diana we now find the perfect confluence of celebrity, beauty, disaster, and mass media that so fascinated the artist, and are so deeply woven in his approach to the icon in the modern day.


    Andy Warhol, Blue Marilyn, 1962, Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey. Image: Princeton University Art Museum. Gift of Alfred H. Barr Jr., Class of 1922, and Mrs. Barr, Artwork: © 2024 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London

    Closely linked to his slightly later Reigning Queens series - which naturally included depictions of her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II alongside other female monarchs of the day – Diana’s vitality and youthful spirit is brought to life in this portrait by the vibrant, animated lines added to her hair and details of her dress. One of only four Princess Diana works in this format, the present iteration in its dazzling blue is undoubtably the most powerful of the set. Echoing the striking tones of her famous engagement ring - subject to much attention in the press at the time, and more recently in the hugely successful television series, The Crown – the silkscreened composition’s bold contrasts and embellished details also draw on a long visual history of the robed Madonna that would certainly have resonated with Warhol, who was raised a Byzantine Catholic by his Eastern European parents. Like these icons of the Middle Ages, in Portrait of Princess Diana, Warhol creates a universal and timeless symbol of grace, love, and forbearance – a true icon for our times.


    With the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth and ascension of Charles and Camilla to the throne, the pathos of Portrait of Princess Diana seems especially redolent, the extent to which she remains such a powerful figure in our collective imagination underscored by the various portrayals of her in film and television in recent years. There is something inherently Warholian in the desire to recover the essence and story of Diana through these performances as the enthusiastic reaction to The Crown testifies to, immortalising her once again on our screens and in our hearts. As Tony Blair continued in his famed speech articulating the devastation and grief of a nation after her death, ‘[t]hough her own life was often sadly touched by tragedy, she touched the lives of so many others, in Britain (and) throughout the world, with joy and with comfort. How many times shall we remember her, in how many different ways […] She was the People’s Princess, and that’s how she will stay, how she will remain in our hearts and in our memories, forever.’ii


     Lady Diana Spencer and the press


    Collector’s Digest


    • The defining artist of post-war American Pop Art, Andy Warhol’s work is immediately recognisable and speaks presciently to issues that define 21st century mass media and digital culture.


    • One of four Princess Diana portraits in this format, Warhol executed this work in 1982, just one year after Diana’s marriage to HRH the Prince of Wales, a much anticipated and publicised event. The present work is the only blue portrait in the set.


    • The subject of major international exhibitions at Tate Modern, London; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou, Paris, Warhol’s work is also held in the permanent collections of the most important institutions worldwide.


    Princess Diana in interview with Martin Bashir, ‘An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales’, BBC1, 20 November 1995.

    ii Prime Minister Tony Blair, 31 August, 1997.  

    • Provenance

      Martin Lawrence Galleries, New York
      Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1987)
      Christie’s, London, 23 October 1998, lot 100
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      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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Property of an Esteemed Private Collection


Portrait of Princess Diana

signed and dated 'Andy Warhol 82' on the overlap
synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas
127 x 107.5 cm (50 x 42 3/8 in.)
Executed in 1982.

Full Cataloguing

£1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for £2,407,500

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2024