From tabloid fodder to fine art portraits, members of the British Royal Family have been the subject of countless images over the years. Perhaps none more so than Diana, Princess of Wales, who was a photographic darling throughout her reign as well as in the years following her controversial divorce from Prince Charles in 1996 and all the way up until her last moments in a tragic 1997 car accident. This week, a never-before-seen photograph of the iconic royal captures her in 1988, at the height of her image as the beloved “People’s Princess.”
The portrait was taken by photographer David Bailey and depicts Diana, age 27 at the time, in austere black-and-white. The newly-unveiled photo is on display this month at Kensington Palace in London as one of the highlights of Life Through A Royal Lens, a broader exhibition that examines the British Royal Family’s varied relationship with the camera. Bailey’s portrait captures Diana’s graceful profile with her gaze directed off-camera, clad in an asymmetrical dress that reveals one shoulder. The image was initially commissioned for the National Portrait Gallery but remained in the artist’s archive until now.
Life Through A Royal Lens opened last week and presents all sorts of iconic images of the Royals over the decades, from shots of George VI and his young family by Lisa Sheridan to Cecil Beaton’s influential portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, which were pivotal in shaping her public image as both a sovereign and a modern mother.
“Ever since Queen Victoria and Prince Albert first embraced the revolutionary new technology of photography, the medium has shaped how the world views the British monarchy,” said Claudia Acott Williams, curator at the Historic Royal Palaces, in a statement. “It has allowed the Royal Family to offer fascinating insights into their life and work, transforming the royal image and creating an unprecedented relationship between crown and subjects.”
The show will also feature some images taken by members of the Royal Family over the decades, as well as crowd-sourced images submitted by members of the public. Following a call for submissions, nearly 1,000 images were sent in from individuals around the world who happened upon the royals with their cameras.
Though Diana was not the first royal to sit for Bailey — she was preceded in 1965 by Lord Snowdon, husband of Princess Margaret — her choice of Bailey’s minimalist style may have indicated her desire to take new hold of her media image, the press release says. Both of Bailey’s royal portraits will be featured in the exhibition. Diana’s many enduring admirers will surely embrace this opportunity to get a rare view of an often-captured yet eternally fascinating subject.