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Cecil Beaton’s portraits to go on display

Baba Beaton as Heloise in Great Lovers Pageant’ by Cecil Beaton, 1925 (National Portrait Gallery, London)
Baba Beaton as Heloise in Great Lovers Pageant’ by Cecil Beaton, 1925 (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Cecil Beaton’s portraits from 1920s and 1930s Britain will go on show at a major new exhibition.

The National Portrait Gallery will open an exhibition on the fashion and society photographer’s prints in spring next year.

Beaton was photographer to the Royal Family, designed the costumes for the stage and film productions of My Fair Lady and the film musical Gigi and was Vogue’s long-running chief photographer.

Cecil Beaton by Paul Tanqueray, 1937
Cecil Beaton by Paul Tanqueray, 1937 (National Portrait Gallery, London, Estate of Paul Tanqueray)

The new exhibition will feature around 150 of Beaton’s works.

It will explore the glamorous world of aristocrats and socialites in 1920s and 1930s Britain, seen through the eyes of the British photographer.

Highlights will include prints of Beaton’s earliest subjects, his sisters Nancy and Baba and the Vogue portrait of his friend George Rylands as ‘The Duchess of Malfi’, which set him on the road to fame.

Beaton’s sitters, during his lifetime, included Greta Garbo, Picasso, the Queen, Winston Churchill, Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel, David Hockney, Marilyn Monroe and Andy Warhol.

Anna May Wong by Cecil Beaton, 1929
Anna May Wong by Cecil Beaton, 1929 (The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s)

Beaton, also a war photographer and diarist, suffered from a debilitating stroke in 1974 and died in 1980, at the age of 76.

Curator Robin Muir said: “The exhibition will bring to life a deliriously eccentric, glamorous and creative era of British cultural life, combining High Society and the avant-garde, artists and writers, socialites and partygoers, all set against the rhythms of the Jazz Age.”

Tallulah Bankhead by Cecil Beaton, 1932
Tallulah Bankhead by Cecil Beaton, 1932 (Museum of the City of New York, gift of Hope Williams, 1973, National Portrait Gallery, London)

National Portrait Gallery, London director Nicholas Cullinan said: “We are delighted to announce this major new exhibition for spring 2020 and to bring together for the first time so many of Beaton’s dazzling photographs, high on art and artifice, which beautifully capture the original and creative world of the Bright Young Things.”

The exhibition will bring together loans from national and international collections and an extensive loan from the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s.

Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things will run at the National Portrait Gallery, London  from March 12 to June 7, 2020. 

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