Princes William and Harry are commissioning a memorial portrait statue of their mother for Kensington Gardens, and British art critic Jonathan Jones frets that it’ll end up “bland and bronze...a betrayal of Diana’s modern image.” She deserves the best of British sculpture; he wrote last week in the Guardian, “not some tacky statue.” “Tacky”?

Questions for Jones crowd the mind. What has he got against bronze? Why assume the memorial that the princes want will be bland? And since the statue will be funded with private money, why is it his business?

Granted Kensington Gardens is a public park. But given that Diana was the people’s princess, what’s wrong with having her likeness in the park? One may also wonder who Jones had in mind when he said the princes’ tribute should be created by “the best of British sculpture”?

Art snobbery

By calling for something modern and Britain’s best, did Jones mean the sculpture of this year’s Turner Prize winner Helen Marten, which is made up of unrelated things like coffee cups, suitcases, and eggshells? Is that his idea of a fitting tribute to the princes’ mother? Or by “best of British sculpture,” is his critic’s eye looking to Anthony Caro’s acclaimed abstract steel work to commemorate Diana? Likely his answer would be “no” to Caro because he once called his work “the empire of the oddballs.” Given the modern sculpture touted in England’s art world, oddball may well be what the princess would end up with if they took Jones’ advice.

Modern art

But here’s the thing. London already has abstract monuments to Princess Diana in the form of a memorial fountain in Hyde Park and a nearby memorial walkway. Not that you’d know they were commemorations of her unless you read the plaques that mark them. And since the Windsors are not known for buying modern art, and since the princes want a likeness of their mother, Jones’ plea for something “modern” makes no sense.

By way of explanation, he says he worries that the princes choice will influence contemporary art and be “a smack in the face for any idea that modern British art is democratic and egalitarian.” By wanting a statue of the Princess of Wales that looks like her, he thinks the Royals are “weighing in on art” and that their choice will be “influential and powerful.” Come on, Jonathan!

Isn’t it possible that people will simply see the statue as Diana’s children remembering her?

Traditional art

Not only did Jones carry on like this at length, but he also threw in a salvo that this as-yet- unseen statue could be “stupid.” Why? Why assume that because the princes want a realistic rendering of their mother “we are going to get another of the godawful attempts at lifelike statuary that already make British public spaces a laughing stock – and this one will come with the royal seal of approval.” It’s times like this that make public disdain for art and critics understandable.