In Review

The verdict on the Kensington Palace Princess Diana statue

‘Could it be that Laura Ashley has made it on to a public monument?’

In 2017, Princes William and Harry announced that a statue of their late mother would be erected in the grounds of Kensington Palace, her former home. 

But the memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales unveiled yesterday in a rare joint public apperance by her sons has fallen flat with critics, with Tristram Fane Saunders’ suggestion in The Telegraph that “opinion is divided” over the statue appearing generous. 

The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones laments the figures’ “aesthetic awfulness”, and says that Ian Rank-Broadley’s sculpture is “a spiritless and characterless hunk of nonsense” that is ultimately “nauseating”.

And Rachel Campbell-Johnston’s two-star review in The Times is in agreement, adding that aesthetically it is “so horrible” it can only have been “calculated to appeal to the lowest common denominator”. 

Diana stands “arms outspread in the pose of a traditional religious Madonna”, Campbell-Johnston continues, with her hands on the shoulders of two young children with a third hidden just behind.

The illusion to the Virgin Mary “shamelessly plays up to the most mawkish aspects of Diana worship”, writes Jones, with the People’s Princess portrayed as a “modern Mary”.

Mark Hudson’s interpretation at The Independent that the male child "looks out with a resolute, hopeful expression” is at least a little more positive. 

The outfit is “somewhat frumpy”, says Campbell-Johnston. Renowned for her style, it seems odd to memorialise Diana in such a way, the belt an already outdated faux-pas, the skirt un-noteworthy. As The Times’s art critic says: “Could it be that Laura Ashley has made it on to a public monument.”

Members of the general public will likely still flock to see the statue, the critics note. A shrine “it will be, but not for art lovers”, says Jones. 

Perhaps it was the memorial’s chosen medium that limited the artistic potential of this undertaking. A bronze “belongs to the norms and standards of another time”, writes Hudson, and is a medium better suited to memorials of “colonial generals, Victorian politicians and fascist dictators” than to a forward-looking woman renowned for her grace on the public stage. 

Or perhaps it was the choice of artist that let this project down. Had Rank-Broadley fulfilled Jones’s hope that the image “might be wildly provocative” – the secret nature of the sculpture’s design stirring the “fascinating prospect of a naked Diana for everyone to get furious about” – the final result may have been a greater success.

In Campbell-Johnston’s opinion, the sculptor chosen to carry out this prestigious work should “certainly have been female”, not one of Britain’s “most safely established middle-aged white male artists”. 

The statue is accompanied by a poem, which could perhaps have redeemed the sculpture's artistic value. But, Fane Saunders says in The Telegraph, the statue is in fact the “better” of the two.

He traces the poetic origins of the selected lines engraved on a slab in front of the statue back to Wallace Gallaher’s 1923 The Measure of a Man, with the word “man” substituted for “woman”. “If you have to re-write it to make it appropriate, you’ve chosen the wrong poem,” he says.

The statue will “play second fiddle to the flower garden in which it is set”, says Campbell-Johnston, and even Jones concedes that the flower beds are “nice”. 

That the statue is “by far the best result we could have hoped for under the circumstances”, as Hudson says, feels generous. “Princess Diana deserved something much better”, Campbell-Johnston adds. 

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