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PORTRAITS OF THE DUKE AND DUCHESS OF WINDSOR
From his birth as the eldest son of King George V, Edward, Prince of Wales basked in the limelight. Dashingly handsome, impeccably dressed, photogenic, enormously charming, an articulate speaker and a consummate sportsman, he stood in contrast with his beloved, but reserved father.
Edward, as future monarch, followed the dynastic iconographic tradition of being photographed in the military regalia of the Armed Services of the Empire. Offered here [lot 156 and 157] are excellent examples of such depictions in which Edward is clad in the uniform of Admiral of the Royal Navy and as Colonel-in-Chief of the Seaforth Highlanders.
King George V died on 21 January 1936 and Edward succeeded him as King Edward VIII. The Coronation was planned for the year-end, but almost immediately, Edward and Prime Minister Baldwin began a behind-the-scenes duel over whether the King [in spite of his status as head of the Church in England] would be allowed to marry Wallis Simpson, the still-married American divorcee Edward had met in 1931. The Man Ray diptych [lot 158] was taken at the height of the crisis in Paris.
Confident of his immense popularity, Edward fully believed for a good part of 1936 that he would prevail over Baldwin. Wallis, perhaps more presciently, wrote the prophetic inscription on the full length Man Ray portrait [lot 158]: "Coming Events Cast Their Shadows Before Them. Wallis- Paris -1936."
Edward lost the duel with Baldwin and abdicated the throne in December. His poignant radio address began with prose never before used by a monarch: "At long last, I am able to say a few words of my own. I have never wanted to withhold anything." The short speech climaxed with his unforgettable cri de coeur: "But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love."
As the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the couple remained in the public eye for much of their lives, as glamorous deans of the jet set and fashion arbiters. They were photographed repeatedly together, but their famous portrait by Avedon [lot 159] is perhaps the most revealing of their personalities at a mature stage of life. Their position as royal taste-makers extraordinaire was reflected by the enormous interest in and high prices realised by their collections: from the fabled jewels of the Duchess, to the Duke's humblest pair of slippers.
In view of the later history of the Monarchy, Edward and Wallis' unorthodox yet passionate relationship might have been presciently "modern" and decades ahead of its time.