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).
Press release courtesy Huxley-Parlour.