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Why Diana’s Favourite Photographer is Giving it all Away

Fifteen iconic images taken by Mario Testino of the late Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 initially shot for Vanity Fair turned out to be the last official portraits taken of the Princess before her untimely death the same year. He later described the experience: “Photographing Diana, Princess of Wales for Vanity Fair in 1997 was one of the most memorable days of my career.”

Royal snapper: Celebrity portrait photographer Mario Testino poses in front of one of the photographs that he captured of the late British Princess Diana at an exhibition in Kensington Palace in London, 22 November 2005

Mario Testino is best known for his extravagant model shoots, weighty coffee table tomes and that Princess Diana photoshoot for Vanity Fair at Kensington Palace. But the Peruvian is following in her footsteps by giving it all away just as she auctioned off her glamorous wardrobe, he too is selling off his prized art collection for charitable causes in his homeland.

In 2012 Testino established the not-for-profit MUSEO MATE in Lima to promote and support local and global culture in Peru. All proceeds from the auction comprising 41 lots will go toward the expansion of the centre’s programme of exhibitions, residencies and education initiatives, ensuring its success in the future.

Born in Lima in 1954 to a traditional Catholic family, remote from the worlds of fashion and Hollywood, Testino moved from Peru to London in 1976. It was during apprenticeships at the studios of John Vickers and Paul Nugent that he made his first attempts as a photographer, inspired by how photography masters documented the society of their times: “I tried to emulate the English – the Mitford sisters, Stephen Tennant and Cecil Beaton.”

Last issue: The July 1997 issue of Vanity Fair magazine featured Diana, Princess of Wales, on the cover wearing a new dress by Gianni Versace. The issue also featured photos of Princess Diana modelling some of the 79 dresses she will auction at Christies in New York. The photographs were taken by fashion photographer Mario Testino at Kensington Palace were the last before the princess’ untimely death in a Paris car crash

His career began tentatively with a commission to photograph a girl’s haircut for British Vogue. The girl in the picture was stylist Lucinda Chambers who later rose to become Vogue’s fashion director and the shoot sparked a personal friendship and professional partnership that has endured to this day.

Testino’s collecting started with photography–specifically a portrait of Vivien Leigh by the surrealist photographer Angus McBean. His initial focus was on early and mid-20th century photography before moving on to more contemporary practitioners including Andres Serrano, Nan Goldin, Martin Parr, Adam Fuss and Thomas Demand among others.

Moving beyond his own chosen medium, his passion for contemporary art was sparked through his close-friendship with the London-based gallerist Sadie Coles. Through Coles he was introduced to new artists who were using photography in new ways; artists like Richard Prince who appropriated and transformed images from advertisements and glossy magazines. “It was a great learning curve for me,” Testino says, “exploring how photography can be used in so many different ways”.

Giveaway: All proceeds from the 41 lots estimated at £10m will go to the Museo Mate in Peru

The ‘discovery’ of Prince marked a key early moment in Testino’s collecting journey, which has since taken him to almost every corner of the world, embracing works in every medium by the most important artists working today. But while the collection is truly international in its scope, it is at the same time unmistakably that of a passionate and proud Peruvian, with so many of the most important Latin American contemporary artists represented. There is work by the Brazilian artists Adriana Verajão and Vik Muniz, by the Colombian-born Oscar Murillo and, of course, works by Peruvian artists including William Cordova and Miguel Aguirre.

  • For further details on the collection, exhibition and programme of events  please visit sothebys.com/ShakeItUp.
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