Last week we made an exciting discovery! We were browsing through a Lot in our upcoming Autographs and Memorabilia sale, consisting of negatives of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Wallis and Edward, from the 1950s. Initially, we were taken with the charm of the unguarded and relaxed character of the images themselves. In one, Wallis and a gentleman in a restaurant are both smiling and happy, the photograph presumably taken by the Duke himself. Then we realised that man photographed next to Wallis was her previous husband, Ernest Simpson.
An internet search revealed no other published photographs of Wallis and Ernest Simpson after their divorce. And not only that. These photographs revealed that they remained friends, 17 or 18 years after the divorce and abdication crisis.
Famously, Wallis Simpson had a relationship with Edward VIII and married him in 1937, a series of events that precipitated the abdication of his thrones and a full-scale constitutional crisis.
One of our Directors, Nick Greenwood, turned to the Duchess of Windsor’s most recent biographer, Anna Pasternak, whose book The American Duchess: The Real Wallis Simpson, published in 2019, seeks to rewrite the perceived wisdom about Wallis Simpson as a villain, presenting her as a victim and a woman wronged by history. The Times found it “unputdownable.”
Nick was fortunate to be able to catch up with Anna Pasternak, to discuss this discovery.
Nick: Are we right in thinking that this is definitely Ernest Simpson, with Wallis and taken in the 1950s?
Anna: Yes, absolutely. In all the research that I did for my book, I have not come across a photograph of Ernest Simpson from the 1950s, yet alone one taken with his ex-wife. It is definitely Ernest. It’s touching how comfortable he and Wallis look together. My book is currently being turned into a Hollywood film, and I have emailed details of the Lot to the producers, to assist with the casting of Ernest Simpson for the film. We now don’t need to just rely on photos taken in the 1930s.
Nick: It’s such a delightful shot. They look so relaxed. So these photographs shed a new light on their relationship?
Anna: It is generally known that the two remained close, and corresponded frequently. But I had not realised that he had visited Wallis and Edward in Paris after they moved there permanently. Of course, Ernest Simpson behaved absolutely impeccably throughout the whole saga – from when Wallis was first having a relationship with Edward, through the divorce proceedings, and during the devastation of the abdication saga. He always remained deferential towards Edward and furiously loyal to Wallis. As this rare photograph clearly shows, they were all able to maintain their friendship after the war and once the Duke and Duchess were settled in Paris.
Nick: Where do you think the photographs were taken?
Anna: I’d suggest that the photograph of Wallis and Ernest is probably taken in a Parisian restaurant, perhaps after they had all enjoyed lunch. You can see the tables set with crockery and glassware in the background. The other photos are mainly taken at their home in the Bois de Boulogne and not their country retreat further outside Paris, Le Moulin de la Tuilerie, as was reported in some of the press last week.
Anna: Where have the photographs come from?
Nick: Well, our consignor is a private individual who was studying photography at Lancaster and Morecambe College about 20 years ago. He was given the negatives by an elderly lady friend, who was not connected with the Royal Family at all, and we don’t know how she acquired them.
Anna: And clearly he didn’t realise the significance of one of the people in the photos!
Nick: Indeed! The negatives come in a folder from Wallace Heaton, the Bond Street photographers who held a Royal Warrant. As the negatives were developed in London, do you think that the camera that took the photographs belonged to Ernest Simpson or his wife Avril? And that they developed them when they returned to London?
Anna: Yes, this seems highly probable, although I think that Ernest was visiting the Windsors by himself. Otherwise, I think we would have seen Avril in the photographs, especially in the shot of Ernest and Wallis in the restaurant. The Windsors were always inclusive with friends and definitely would have included her in some of the shots.
Nick: Thank you so much for talking to me about the photographs and providing your insight. It has been very interesting talking to you.
Anna: They offer an unseen, unexpected and unique insight into the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and it has been a pleasure to see them. Thank you.
Lot 1727 – a collection of negative transparencies of pictures of Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, Ernest Simpon and the Duke of Windsor, with views of their Paris residence, countryside landscapes and street views. Sold for £1,250 including Buyer's Premium in our March 2021 Autographs & Memorabilia auction.
For more information get in touch with Head of Autographs & Memorabilia, Valentina Borghi.
Article updated October 2021 with sold for prices.