‘She sat for him 12 times’: The Nigerian artist who made a bronze sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II was inspired by his late wife
Sonia Ajele’s ‘golden period’ came to an end in 2003 when she lost her battle with breast cancer. Ajele died in May this year and left behind a collection of paintings and a statue of Queen Elizabeth II, which is on show at the Royal Academy.
Ajele was one of three British women to have been awarded the title ‘Royalty’, but the accolade she received was less lofty than the many public tributes heaped upon her by fellow artists and critics.
An exhibition of her work in London last month, entitled ‘Sonia Ajele: Painting as Performance’, saw the artist’s work displayed alongside work by other leading women artists who have also won an honour for their work.
While Ajele’s bronze statue of the Queen can be seen in front of Buckingham Palace, her painting of Princess Diana on the Royal Academy’s top floor is, with the exception of the statue, the work that has garnered the most attention.
Ajele, who was born in Lagos and trained in Ghana, painted Diana, the Queen Mother as well as Princess Diana.
Her work portrays the princess in the nude and depicts her’shattered’ sexuality.
Ajele’s art is an attempt to recreate the’sensation’ of Diana’s death when she collapsed and died while jogging in the grounds of a California hotel in 1997.
In ‘Diana’, a bronze sculpture, she recreated the moment of Diana’s death and positioned her in front of Kensington Palace.
While the Royal Academy was overwhelmed by the artwork that Ajele had donated in 2000 that featured the princess, it wasn’t until she donated ‘The Golden Period’ that the museum realised just how influential her work could be.
Ajele created ‘The Golden Period’ after she lost her battle with cancer in 2003 and donated the work to the Royal Academy after her death. Photo: Getty
The exhibition features works from past exhibitions that Ajele had donated, including paintings from her ‘Golden Period’, which began in 1997 after she won a prize at the Venice Biennial.
Speaking last month, Ajele said: ‘It was with great joy and relief that I learned that the