Princess Diana: Why This ‘Very Bad’ Painting of Her Is So Famous

Few professional painters describe their work as “bad.” Fewer painters who describe their work as “bad” become famous. However, that’s exactly what happened when artist Stella Vine sold her controversial painting of Princess Diana.

Vine gave us one of the most well-known paintings of the 2000s: Hi Paul can you come over I’m really frightened. Many critics disparaged the painting. So why is Hi Paul can you come over I’m really frightened so iconic?

Stella Vine’s painting Hi Paul can you come over I’m really frightened on display in England | Yui Mok – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Why Princess Diana became the subject of a controversial painting

Vine was a fan of Princess Diana. She felt the Princess of Wales did what she could to do good and make the most of her situation in life. She saw some of herself in the royal icon. Despite how much Vine admired Diana, she made a painting which some people felt dishonored the princess.

Vine learned about the time Paul Burrell, Diana’s butler, said the princess wrote him a letter in which she said she was worried someone would kill her. This news story, as well as Vine’s reaction to Diana’s death, inspired her to paint the Princess of Wales. The result was a painting called Hi Paul can you come over I’m really frightened. Unlike most paintings, the title of Vine’s portrait is painted onto the canvas.

Why the painting was so controversial

Hi Paul can you come over I’m really frightened was derided by critics for its style. Some felt Vine exhibited no painting skills. Others were upset by the way Diana’s lips were painted. People felt the smears of red on Diana’s lips could either be interpreted as lipstick or blood. The latter interpretation of the painting disgusted many.

Stella Vine standing next to her painting Hi Paul can you come over I’m really frightened at an exhibition at The Saatchi Gallery | Yui Mok – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Vine concurred with her critics quite a bit. She said she had painted Diana’s lips in such a way that the they could be understood as either smeared with lipstick or smeared with blood. Vine also said Hi Paul can you come over I’m really frightened was “a very bad painting.” She felt the quality of the painting offended people.

How did the painting change Stella Vine’s career?

There was one famous person the painting did not offend: Charles Saatchi. He’s a famous art dealer who saw the painting in an obscure gallery and purchased for £600. The purchase made Vine into the new “it girl” of the art scene and made her painting famous.

Vine was incredibly happy this happened. For some time, she’d had difficulty selling her paintings. In a short amount of time, Vine believed she had enough money to quit her her job stripping and become a full-time artist. All for a portrait of Princess Diana that Vine thought was bad! Love it or hate it, Vine’s painting is emblematic of contemporary art.

Also see: Princess Diana Did Something Scandalous at the Musical ‘Cats’