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US and the British royals: A long-distance love affair

A special exhibition of British royal portraiture has come to Texas from London, just as a Netflix show documenting the life of Elizabeth II, The Crown, sweeps the Emmys. How has the US fascination with the royals endured?

With an elegant white fur collar around her neck and beneath the sparkling diamond diadem from her 1953 coronation the Queen's eyes are beguilingly closed - is she asleep, thinking about what cocktail to have before supper, or contemplating death?

Chris Levine's intimate and enigmatic holographic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II is one of 150 objects - most never seen before outside the UK - now telling an audience in Houston the story of Britain's monarchy across five centuries through masterworks of painting, sculpture and photography.

"The image came from a sitting Chris Levine did with the Queen during which she rested between photographs," says Louise Stewart, a curator with London's National Portrait Gallery (NPG) that is partnering with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), and which never before has allowed such a large number of its masterpieces to travel.

"She's dressed so royally but her closed eyes create a sense of vulnerability. It makes you realise that despite her being so recognisable, the most photographed person in history, we still hardly know her and rarely get beyond the surface - it's very haunting."

The MFAH is the only US venue hosting Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits from Holbein to Warhol.

Interest in the British monarchy certainly spans the globe, but in the US it occupies a special place, spurred in recent years by the impact of media productions and real-life events.

These range from successful TV shows such as The Crown - just awarded two Emmys - to this year's marriage of American actress Meghan Markle to Prince Harry.

Even the minor royals don't go unnoticed - the wedding of Princess Eugenie on Friday was greeted by a few shrugs and a "Who?" but it was the most viewed story in North America on the BBC News website.

The stateside exhibition is further evidence, if any more is needed, of the intriguing relationship Americans have with the British monarchy, in which despite their country being built on rebellion against the British crown, Americans appear unable to get enough of their former rulers.

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