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Diana, Princess of Wales

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Diana, Princess of Wales

by Bryan Organ
acrylic on canvas, 1981
70 in. x 50 in. (1778 mm x 1270 mm)
Commissioned, 1981
Primary Collection
NPG 5408

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Bryan Organ (1935-), Painter. Artist of 16 portraits, Sitter in 6 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This portrait was painted at the time of her engagement to the Prince of Wales and shows her in the Yellow Drawing Room of Buckingham Palace.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 132
  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • 100 Fashion Icons, p. 154
  • Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), p. 221 Read entry

    Bryan Organ's portrait of Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II, was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in 1980. The artist's portrait of Lady Diana Spencer (as she was before her marriage) was commissioned the following year as a companion piece, made to mark the couple's engagement. Based on sittings, studies and photographs, both portraits are relatively informal and utterly devoid of royal regalia - the Prince of Wales wears his polo clothes - and the only indication of the prince's royal identity is the presence of the Union Jack flag in the background, while the setting for the portrait of Lady Diana was the Yellow Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace.

    When Lady Diana's portrait was unveiled just days before her wedding at St Paul's Cathedral, press attention focused on the unusual depiction of a female member of the royal family in trousers - a foretaste of what was to become a media obsession with the Princess of Wales's clothes and appearance. Within months of its unveiling, the portrait had been slashed as a political protest over British involvement in Ireland, but was successfully restored, the damage remaining only barely perceptible. The royal couple had two sons, Princes William and Harry, but their marriage was dissolved in 1996, a year before Diana, Princess of Wales, was tragically killed in a car crash.

  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 57 Read entry

    Commissioned by the Gallery to mark her engagement to Prince Charles, it shows the Princess in the Yellow Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, striking an informal pose within a tight geometric setting.

  • Cooper, John, Great Britons: The Great Debate, 2002, p. 158 Read entry

    In different circumstances she would have grown older and more regal, the subject of dozens of dignified, official portrait paintings. The National Portrait Gallery would have collected a series of canvases milestoning her advancing years, as with Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Bryan Organ's portrait stands alone, and now seems to symbolise the world from which she escaped, the tight frame of the background prophetically constricting. Photography and video were her media: instantaneous, accessible, demotic, reflecting the beauty, conferring the glamour, often importunate and disrespectful, but conveying her messages and defining her memorial.

  • Parris, Matthew, Heroes and Villains: Scarfe at the National Portrait Gallery, 2003 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 30 September 2003 to 4 April 2004), p. 62
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 243
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 254
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 177
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 187 Read entry

    Gilt ramin(?) mitred and pinned, flat-topped hockey section, burnished water gilding rubbed to show the orange bole, the overlap of the gold leaf creating a banding effect, faulting and creasing lines visible, the well of the float frame between the frame and the canvas lined in hessian. 1 3⁄ 4 inches wide.

    'To framing ... in large hockey frame specially flattened and finished in English gold leaf lightly rubbed finish as discussed and agreed with the Artist ... £431.25'. Michael Carleton's frame, described in his bill of 31 July 1981, is one of three he made for portraits of the royal family painted by Bryan Organ for the National Portrait Gallery in the early 1980s. Its 'hockey' moulding (with a profile like a hockey stick) matches that on the slightly earlier portrait of the Prince of Wales, while the later portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh has a wider flat frame. As usual Michael Carleton sub-contracted the gilding, which had to be done very quickly to meet the deadline for unveiling the portrait.

    The artist has spoken of his belief in showing the whole canvas as a visual flat image when framing.1 The feel of space and of the picture can be changed dramatically by the frame. The use of a well round the canvas makes it possible to alter the interval and its colouring in relationship to the picture and the frame. Organ's feeling is that a fairly flat 'hockey' section, or even a flat frame such as on his portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh, suits a picture of this size; a D-section is more appropriate to a narrower picture. The gilding on the portrait of the Princess of Wales is of a lemon gold which he particularly likes, lightly rubbed to allow the underlayer to influence its tone.

    Bryan Organ's interest in framing stems from his student days at the Royal College of Art in the 1950s when, like other students, he would go to Green & Stone in the King's Road, Chelsea, for frames. In the 1960s he used Dino de Biasi, a Venetian gilder and a great innovator, with premises in Tottenham Mews near Heals. Subsequently he turned to Michael Carleton, a framemaker who also ran a business hiring out antique furniture as props for film and television from a memorable shop on Haverstock Hill.2 Since Carleton's death in about 1990 Organ has used John Jones Framing.

    1 Much of this entry is based on a telephone conversation with the artist, 18 April 1996.

    2 Carleton's framing business was one he took over from another framemaker. John Gill made many of the frames under his direction. Telephone conversation with Michael Francis, 18 April 1996.

  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 241 Read entry

    One of the Gallery’s most celebrated works, this portrait by Bryan Organ (b.1935) of Lady Diana Spencer (as she was at the point of commission) was marked by controversy almost from the beginning. The painting was commissioned by the Gallery as a companion piece to Organ’s earlier portrait of Prince Charles (1980). The artist was known to be a relatively fast worker and, following the engagement of Lady Diana to Prince Charles in February 1981, it was proposed that the painting should be ready in time for the Royal wedding later that year on 29 July. Organ requested a couple of sittings and, based on photographs and studies, the finished portrait – which shows Lady Diana in the Yellow Drawing Room of Buckingham Palace – was ready in time, being inaugurated at the Gallery on 23 July. It immediately attracted widespread interest. The press responded in particular to the unusual depiction of a member of the Royal Family wearing trousers, an idea proposed by the artist. However, on 29 August the portrait was slashed by a protestor. Despite initial concerns, a successful restoration was quickly expedited and the painting was returned to public display in November 1981. The Prince and Princess of Wales were later to divorce, and Princess Diana was killed in a car accident in 1997.

  • Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 166
  • Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery: History of the Kings and Queens of England, 1998, p. 169

Placesback to top

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1981back to top

Current affairs

Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer at St Paul's Cathedral. A crowd of 600,000 spectators filled the streets to catch a glimpse of the Royal couple, and 750 million viewers watched the event on television. The iconic moment came when Charles and Diana appeased the crowds by breaking royal protocol and kissing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

Art and science

Andrew Lloyd-Webber's musical Cats, based on T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, opens in the West End. The show ran for 21 years.
Brideshead Revisited, the 1945 novel by Evelyn Waugh, is adapted for television by John Mortimer. The lavish production featured an all-star cast of Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom and John Gielgud, setting the bar high for future TV costume dramas.


Pope John Paul II is shot by a Turkish gunman in St Peter's Square in Rome. John Paul was rushed to hospital where he recovered, and Mehmet Ali Agca was caught and sentenced to life imprisonment.
HIV AIDS is identified in five men in Los Angeles.

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