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

Marlene Dumas Great Britain 1995–7
Marlene Dumas Great Britain 1995–7

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.

This is the second article in our Close up series on artworks on display in our Marlene Dumas exhibition

Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden is on display at Tate Modern from 5 February - 10 May 2015