Edward Bainbridge Copnall, 1907 - 1973
Portrait of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia (1892 -1975 ) wearing the order of the Garter
His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I,

signed and inscribed "ASSAB"

oil on canvas
91.44 x 71.12 cm. (36 x 28 in.)


Emperor Haile Salassie I of Ethiopia was made a knight of the Order of the Garter in 1954 . "On his appointment to the Order of the Garter in 1954 the Emperor at first asked that he be allotted two stalls in St George's Chapel, one for him as Emperor of Ethiopia, and the other for him as The Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah." Tafari Makonnen, who took the regal name of Haile Selassie (meaning Power of the Trinity) on becoming Emperor in 1930, was the son of Ras Makonnen, first cousin of Emperor Menilek II and governor of Harar in south-east Ethiopia. Educated by Jesuit missionaries and at secondary school in Addis Ababa, he was appointed governor of Harar at the age of 17. In September 1916 Menilek's grandson and successor, Yasu, was ousted in a palace coup, and Tafari became regent and heir to the throne with the title of Ras, thus gaining the name by which he was to be known to the Rastafarians. Over the next fourteen years he gradually built up his power through a capacity for skilful political manœuvre which he never lost. He was instrumental in securing Ethiopia's admission to the League of Nations in 1923, and became Emperor in 1930. As leader of the modernizing group in the Ethiopian court politics of the time, he sought to expand education and build links with foreign states, but was careful not to alienate powerful domestic interests. He issued a written constitution in 1931, in which he retained all major powers himself. His diplomatic skills however failed to avert invasion by Fascist Italy in 1935; the Ethiopian armies were defeated and Haile Selassie fled to exile in England, impressing the world with his dignity in an address to the League of Nations, protesting at Italian conquest. Haile Selassie returned to Ethiopia in 1941, and regained the throne with the defeat of the Italians. Initially reliant on the British, he established close relations with the United States, curbed the power of the regional aristocracy, and built a more centralized administration than Ethiopia had ever known. He secured the federation with Ethiopia of the former Italian colony of Eritrea in 1952, and despite a 1955 constitution which introduced universal suffrage he retained close personal control over government. His cautious regime came to seem archaic to younger educated Ethiopians, and his imposition of centralized rule on Eritrea provoked revolt. After an abortive coup led by the commander of his bodyguard in 1960, he was always on the defensive. He seized the diplomatic opportunity presented by African independence, and hosted the 1963 conference which established the Organization of African Unity, ensuring that the organization would be used to uphold existing states and boundaries. This aided him both against the Eritrean separatists, and against Somali claims on south-east Ethiopia. In the latter part of his reign, his prestige abroad contrasted with a steady loss of authority at home, and he was unable to cope with the creeping revolution which led to his deposition by a radical military regime in September 1974. His apparent indifference to a major famine undermined his position. He was murdered in his palace by his successor, Mengistu Haile Mariam. Despite his decline in his later years, he remained a symbol of African dignity both within and outside the continent, and is likely to be remembered as one of the greatest of twentieth-century Africans.

Artist biography

Edward Bainbridge Copnall was born in 1903 at Cape Town, South Africa. He was the son of the Edward White Copnall and nephew of the celebrated Liverpudlian portraitist Frank Thomas Copnall (1870-1948). Edward was raised at Horsham in Sussex and was educated at the Liverpool Institute and Skinners School, then trained at Goldsmiths’ College in New Cross, south London and at the Royal Academy Schools. He initially commenced his artistic career as a painter and at the age of 22, produced Whither (Horsham Museum). Executed in full-on Stanley Spencer mode, it portrayed a funeral and the crooked spire in the picture identifies the church as being St Mary’s Horsham. The painting depicts the commonplace and the nightmarish. A ghostly spirit flies from the coffin and a figure holds a skeleton and weeps tears of blood. Copnall encountered the carver Eric Kennington in 1927, forsook the paintbrush and took up the mallet and chisel. In 1938 he executed the Sight and Sound panels on the Warner Theatre, Leicester Square, London During the war, he worked as as a camouflage officer and was awarded an MBE. At the end of the war, was given a studio at the British School of Rome, where he painted portraits of senior officers. On his return from Rome, he was the headmaster of the Sir John Cass College of Art from 1945 to 1953. Further reliefs by him may be seen in Page Street, Westminster. They adorn the front of what is now a block of flats. but in 1952 was still a government building. He was awarded the silver medal of the Royal Society of British Sculptors for his large sculptured stag adorning the new Stag Place in Victoria. The sculpture is now at Maidstone, outside the Larksmeadow Centre. Perhaps one of Bainbridge Copnall’s best works is his statue Becket in the gardens of St Paul’s Cathedral in which he froze in time the death of the cleric St Thomas á Becket, murdered by royal command in 1170. Copnall also produced wood carvings depicting history of shipping for the Cunard liners QUEEN MARY and QUEEN ELIZABBETH, and engraved glass screens for the latter. In 1954 he sculpted the statue of the Burmese General Aung San. He was responsible for the splendid reliefs adorning the office building which occupied the site of the old St James’s Theatre. The subjects of the carvings ranged from Oscar Wilde, and Sir George Alexander to Lord Olivier and Vivien Leigh. The closure and demolition of St James’s theatre was something of a cause celebre in 1957 and there was a nationwide campaign to try to save it. Working with James Woodford, Copnall carried out a substantial amount of sculpture for the Royal Institute of British Architects building at 66 Portland Place, London. He served as President of the Royal Society of British Sculptors (1961-66). He was author of A Sculptor’s Manual, published in 1971, and Cycles: An Autobiography – The Life and Work of a Sculptor, published in 2001. His fibreglass sculpture Family Group at Billingham comprises a family linked in a ring. A shirtless father bends to reach the hands of a toddler, whilst the mother holds the youngest member of the family in her arms. It was inaugurated by The Queen on 19 October 1967. Following the unveiling, the Duke of Edinburgh is reported to have said to Councillor Bill Allen: ‘The man on the statue looks rather careworn. Did you pose for it ?’ Copnall was in the news on 6 January 2009 when the Daily Mail reported ‘A vicar has removed a sculpture of the crucifixion from the front of his church because it was a ‘horrifying depiction of pain and suffering’ and was allegedly scaring off worshippers. The Reverend Ewen Souter of St John’s Church, Horsham, West Sussex said the traditional Christian symbol was frightening children and that it would be replaced with a modern, stainless steel cross.’ Some of his congregation reacted angrily to the decision, one stating: ‘The crucifix is the oldest and most famous symbol of the Christian church. Pulling it down and putting up something that would look more at home on the side of a flashy modern shopping centre is not the way to get more bums on seats. Next they’ll be ripping out the pews and putting sofas in their place, or throwing out all the Bibles and replacing them with laptops. It’s just not right.’ The sculpture was subsequently presented to Horsham Museum, where a spokesman diplomatically said: ‘Thanks to the generosity of St John’s, we have been given the remarkable sculpture of Jesus on the Cross by Edward Bainbridge Copnall. The museum was keen to have the figure because it is a stunning example of Edward’s ability and skill as a sculptor.’