According to the figure painter Marlene Dumas, ‘secondhand images...can generate first-hand emotions'. Assistant Curator Fiontán Moran takes a close look at the two canvases that make up Great Britain, on display in a significant exhibition of her work at Tate Modern
Great Britain brings together two figures of British culture: the supermodel Naomi Campbell, painted in a loose style in an anonymous setting, who stares directly at the viewer; and Princess Diana, who demurely looks on in an elaborate woodland setting. The latter canvas was created in response to a photograph by Lord Snowdon published on the cover of a Dutch newspaper after Diana’s death. Taken in 1985, it presents the Princess in a pink gown, set against a theatre-like backdrop. By using a photograph evocative of 18th-century portraiture, Dumas references both the history of art and the popular romantic view of Diana. Great Britain becomes a dialogue between two canvases about class, style, race and femininity in Britain and their representation within the media.