LONDON — One hundred years after his birth, London is celebrating Cecil Beaton, the Englishman with the relentlessly roving eye, the photographer and diarist who offered both sublime images — and incisive commentary — of 20th-century...
LONDON — One hundred years after his birth, London is celebrating Cecil Beaton, the Englishman with the relentlessly roving eye, the photographer and diarist who offered both sublime images — and incisive commentary — of 20th-century celebrities and socialites.
Today, Sotheby’s will unveil Beaton at Large, an exhibition featuring more than 50 photographs — many of them in large format — accompanied by Beaton’s sometimes sweet, sometimes snarling commentary.
“Cocteau was one of the few who always seemed successfully to have designed his own appearance…the bird-like profile, the parchment skin, the pursed lips,” reads the caption to a silhouette shot of the writer.
Lydia Cresswell-Jones, curator of the Sotheby’s show, said she wants viewers to come away from the exhibition with Beaton still in their heads. “I think it’s fun to go around an exhibition listening to Beaton. This is not someone else’s view of him — it’s him speaking,” she said.
The show, which runs until Feb. 20, features portraits from the Twenties through the Sixties and includes everyone from Marlene Dietrich to Coco Chanel and Mick Jagger.
To coincide with the show, Sotheby’s, which owns Beaton’s studio archive, has for the first time published an index of its 100,000 Beaton images, and plans to convert them into digital files.
A mile from Sotheby’s near Trafalgar Square, the National Portrait Gallery last week opened Cecil Beaton Portraits, which will run until May 31. This show offers 100 portraits, grouped by decade, with never-seen-before snaps of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s wedding, Gertrude Stein, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Marilyn Monroe from her own collection.
“What’s really striking is the diversity of the photos, and how Beaton managed to reinvent himself over the decades,” said Terence Pepper, curator of photographs at the museum.
Indeed, Beaton photographed headline-makers from Queen Elizabeth II to young victims of the Blitz during his decades-long career. “Like Madonna, Beaton was a master of reinvention, changing his styles with the decades,” Pepper said.
Meanwhile, in southwest London, the National Archive in Kew is staging Our Man in India, photos that Beaton shot during World War II in India, on behalf of the Ministry of Information. The exhibition, which runs until March 13, illustrates everyday life in India and the Indians’ contribution to the war effort.And the Beaton celebration isn’t restricted to Britain. This fall in the U.S., Knopf will publish “Beaton in the Sixties: More Unexpurgated Diaries,” the second volume of Beaton’s diaries edited by Hugo Vickers.
The book, which is already out in the U.K, features eye-popping commentary on stars such as Greta Garbo (“I was appalled how destroyed her skin has become, covered with wrinkles, double-chin…there is a furriness that is disastrous.”) and Mick Jagger (“His skin is chicken breast white, and of a fine quality. He has enormous inborn elegance.”).
The diaries fizz with life. “We all lead relatively humdrum lives, but Beaton makes every morning seem like a birthday, every afternoon like the curtain rising on a matinee and every evening like first night with champagne popping in the wings,” said Vickers, who has also written biographies of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother; Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece, the mother of the Duke of Edinburgh, and Vivien Leigh.
“Beaton had this extraordinary visual intelligence — an incredible eye,” added Vickers. “With his camera and pen he captured the 20th-century moments of a very particular world.”
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