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King airbrushed out of coronation portrait

Story highlights

  • Rediscovered picture of King Edward VIII reveals portrait was reworked as King George VI
  • Painting was commissioned for use in coronation issue of "The Illustrated London News"
  • Edward VIII reigned from January to December 1936 but was never crowned
  • Monarch abdicated in order to be allowed to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson

A long-lost picture of Britain's King Edward VIII reveals the monarch's portrait was "edited" after his abdication to show his replacement, King George VI.

Edward VIII posed for popular periodical "The Illustrated London News" in 1936, ahead of his planned coronation.

But when the monarch stepped down before he was officially crowned, artist Albert H Collings recycled the image, painting over Edward's face in an early version of the "airbrushing" familiar to today's magazine readers.

"We tend to think of it as a modern thing, but this just shows it has been going on forever," said Illustrated London News chief executive Lisa Barnard.

"I suppose the thinking was that the original would never be seen, so no one would ever know," she told CNN, adding, "editors have always had to be resourceful -- news changes, and they have to change with it.

"We found a note of how much the artists were paid for the portraits -- hundreds of pounds, which was a lot of money at the time -- and the magazine would not have wanted to waste that."

    The alteration came to light following the discovery of a proof copy of a special coronation edition of the magazine.

    When images of the coronation that never happened were published in British newspapers, one eagle-eyed reader noticed the striking similarity between the unknown painting of Edward VIII, and the image of George VI, which was published in a later issue of the periodical.

    Barnard said the portrait was not the only item from the unpublished Edward VIII coronation special to be recycled.

    "They were able to reuse some of the more general articles for the George VI coronation issue, and some other pictures of the coronation robes were also 'edited' to show George VI -- again, the artist just changed the heads.

    "Days after the abdication was announced, the magazine put out a special 'abdication and accession' edition, and they ran a whole essay which had been due to run in the coronation issue as a tribute to Edward VIII, and which became, in effect, a eulogy."

    It is thought the magazine's editor Sir Bruce Ingram was tipped off days before the abdication that the coronation issue might not be needed.

    In a page of notes attached to the proof copy and dated December 3, 1936 -- a week before the official announcement -- he has written a list of alterations and revisions needed "if Ed. VIII abdicates."

    "It is a sign of a smart editor, thinking on his feet and making the most of what they had," Barnard told CNN.

    Edward VIII became King on the death of his father, George V, in January 1936 but reigned for less than a year before stepping aside on December 11 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

    His younger brother, George VI, who had never expected to become King, was named as his successor.

    The story of the new monarch's struggle against a debilitating stutter in the early days of his reign was chronicled in the Oscar-winning movie "The King's Speech."