Photo: The Royal Collection.
This beautiful portrait of Princess Diana caught my eye as I made my way down the stairs in the private apartments of Kensington Palace after leaving the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, which is housed in part of Princess Margaret’s former apartment.
Here’s the thing – part of the pay off for occasionally being allowed to peek behind the scenes in royal residences is an unspoken understanding that you’ll be discreet about the things that you see and my initial impulse was not to mention this painting. However, I’ve since learned that it has been on public display in the Museum of Wales in Cardiff and so decided that it would be okay to share its loveliness with you all.
I love this portrait – it was painted in 1984 (is it terrible that I immediately correctly guessed the year it was painted because of her hairstyle?) by John Stanton Ward and depicts the late princess in her gorgeous Emanuel designed wedding dress, trailing a piece of lace or gauze between her fingers. The expression on her face is arresting – caught somewhere between wistfulness and amusement, she looks like a princess from a fairy tale.
The artist, John Ward wrote later that: ‘When I was asked to paint this portrait I was immensely flattered. A glorious subject. The wedding dress was chosen by mutual consent.
The portrait was painted at Kensington Palace. With the elaborate dress and the simplicity of the shape of the couch, I eliminated all background. It was wonderful to attempt so splendid a subject.‘
Apparently, Princess Diana also loved this portrait and insisted upon hanging it in her private apartment at Kensington Palace after her divorce from Prince Charles. I’m not surprised to be honest – it’s a lovely painting even if the sight of herself in her wedding dress may well have been ever so slightly bittersweet.
What do you think? I think it’s lovely to see a painted royal portrait for a change – the royal family have really embraced photography in a big way, which is great but I miss the days of grand portraits by the likes of Van Dyck, Gainsborough and Vigée Lebrun with sumptuously shimmering fabrics and all the other gorgeously elaborate trappings.
It seems to be the thing right now to make the trip to Buckingham Palace to peer at the Duchess of Cambridge’s gorgeous lace and silk wedding dress, but I’m considering heading off to Althrop in Northamptonshire instead to pay a visit to Princess Diana’s dress. Unfashionable it may well be but it’s still my favourite royal wedding dress.