Cecil Beaton was born in Hampstead in 1904. Experimental from an early age, his younger sisters, Nancy and Baba,  proved  useful  props for Beaton as a young photographer, as he experimented with backdrops, materials and photographic techniques. Photographs included in this exhibition include early portraits of his mother and his two sisters in theatrical costume.

Placing himself at the centre of fashionable society in the 1920s, Beaton became a prominent member of the ‘Bright Young People’, and found himself uniquely placed to  photograph   a   generation   of  young   socialites,   avant-garde writers  and  artists. Stylish and innovative, his bold use of pattern, line and texture reflected the extravagance of the era and the high-spirited characters of his sitters.

Beaton’s photographs provide an unparalleled insight into the lives of the ‘Bright Young Things’, and both the public and private images they fashioned for themselves. He launched his career as a society photographer in 1926 with an exhibition at the Cooling Galleries, London. Early portraits in the exhibition include a number of celebrated society figures, as well as artistic figures including poet and critic Edith Sitwell, and actresses Talullah Bankhead and Anna May Wong.

Beaton’s photographs provide an unparalleled insight into the lives of the ‘Bright Young Things’, and both the public and private images they fashioned for themselves.

Beaton quickly became known for his theatrical use of elaborate props, costumes, and hand painted backdrops. He was celebrated for his ability to deftly reference the history of art, as well as the subtle use of motifs borrowed from emerging European Surrealism. He  worked  with  the  play  of  projected  shadows  and  patterns  of  light  through  cut-out  paper  and  used  Surrealist props inspired by Giorgio de Chirico and Salvador Dalí, who  he  photographed  in  1936.

Beaton’s career as an internationally renowned fashion photographer evolved naturally from his work as a society portraitist, and flourished under the patronage of Vogue, first in London and Paris, and by 1929, New York. A number of works in the exhibition demonstrate his innovative and distinctive fashion photography, and were produced during his time working for American Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

Beaton was appointed as an official photographer for the Ministry of Information in 1940, assigned  to  document  various  aspects  of  the  war  effort at home and abroad. He became the Royal photographer of choice, documenting the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. After the war, Beaton returned to fashion photography. He gained Academy Awards for his contributions  to the  film  versions  of  the  musicals,  Gigi (1958)  and  My  Fair  Lady  (1964).

The Exhibition

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