An archive of fashion, photographs and letters telling the remarkable story of the last queen of Madagascar will return home after it was bought at auction by the island’s government.
The jumble of ephemera, along with an ornate 19th-century dress, all relates to the life of Queen Ranavalona III, who was dethroned by the French and exiled to Algiers.
It was collected by Clara Herbert, who worked for the Madagascan royal family between the 1890s and 1920s, and passed down through her family before ending up in the attic of a house in Guildford, Surrey.
A move to the country necessitated a clear-out of the house. The collection was handed to the auctioneer Kerry Taylor, who painstakingly pieced together the life of Ranavalona from the archive.
It was sold on Tuesday for £43,000, well above the estimate of £1,000 to £1,500.
The president of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, said: “Madagascar attaches great importance to the acquisition of these royal items as part of the reappropriation of Malagasy national history and cultural heritage. They will be installed in the newly reopened, restored Queen’s palace, where they will be displayed to the general public.”
They will be shown alongside Ranavalona’s royal dais, which was recently returned to the island by France from the collection of the Musée de l’Armée in Paris.
The Anglo-Malagasy Society, which helped source funds for the archive acquisition, said it was delighted the items were being returned to the people of Madagascar.
“It is also wonderful to be able to bring to life the story of Miss Clara Herbert and highlight the long history of friendship between British and Malagasy people,” it added.
The archive includes an elaborate dark purple velvet and cyclamen pink satin dress worn by the queen’s sister, Ramisindrazana.
Taylor said she was delighted the archive was heading to Madagascar. “This has been one of the most fascinating research projects of my career – sorting through the numerous documents and photographs, handling the princess’s opulent embroidered Malagasy court gown and following these brave women through the trials and tribulations of their lives.
“The queen and princess were separated during their lifetimes from their people and it gives me enormous satisfaction to know that this collection will soon be on its way home where it will be fully appreciated, admired and cared for in perpetuity.”
— to www.theguardian.com