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Emperor Haile Selassie I (1892-1975) - A Royal Presentation Portrait, signed and dated 1961
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Emperor Haile Selassie I (1892-1975) - A Royal Presentation Portrait, signed and dated 1961

Measurements: Overall: 32cm (12.1in) x 22cm (8.5in)

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A full length portrait green leather easel backed frame by Asprey of Old Bond Street, London, embellished with the crowned cypher of Haile Selassie I in gilt metal. The image signed and dated to the left in Haile Selassie’s hand.

A defining figure in African history, Haile Selassie I was the successor to a dynasty claiming descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Born Tafari Makonnen Woldwmikael, he came to the Ethiopian throne in 1930 after a convoluted power struggle and extensive foreign travels during which he exchange two lions with George V for the return of the Ethiopian crown taken by Robert Napier during the Abyssinian expedition of 1868.

In 1935 Abyssinia was invaded by Mussolini’s Italy still smarting from the humiliating defeat inflicted on Italian forces by Ethiopian tribesman at the battle of Adowa in 1896. In response Haile Selassie took the field and with his northern armies but after the short lived success of the ‘Christmas Offensive’, was defeated at the Battle of Maychew, and ultimately forced into exile in Jerusalem being conveyed there in the British cruiser H.M.S. Enterprise.

Abyssinia’s membership of the League of Nations gave the Emperor a platform from which he condemned the Italian use of chemical weapons but also exposed the utter failure of ‘collective security’ when it was revealed that Ethiopia’s League allies were scheming to appease Italy. Much of the Haile Selassie’s exile was spent in England, partly at Wimbledon and where his statue acts as a place of pilgrimage for Rastafarians who perceive him as a messianic figure.

In 1941 Haile Selassie was restored to the Ethiopian throne through the combined efforts of British and African troops of Gideon Force under Colonel Orde Wingate. In 1942, Haile Selassie finally abolished the legal basis of slavery throughout his realm and imposed severe penalties, including death, for slave trading. As a founding member of the United Nations, Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia sent a contingent to fight in the Korean War as a redemption of the principles of collective security. However in 1960’s & 70’s, he was a sharp critic of the non-UN sanctioned intervention in Indochina, and repeatedly called for the ending of the Vietnam War. In the same era he continued to enjoy enormous international prestige and respect as the longest-serving head of state in power.

Haile Selassie’s efforts to modernise his country were tempered by the influence of the nobility and church, and were insufficient to meet the demands of the country’s Marxist orientated students and intelligensia. Military mutinies and the 1973 oil crisis hastened revolution directed by the Soviet-backed Derg - a committee of low ranking military men. The Emperor’s death from respiratory failure was announced in 1975, but given the Derg’s bloody track record it is widely believed that Haile Selassie was murdered.

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