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Edith Sitwell

© Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, Sotheby's London

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Edith Sitwell

by Cecil Beaton
bromide print on white card mount, 1930
9 1/2 in. x 5 1/4 in. (240 mm x 132 mm)
Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 1991
Photographs Collection
NPG x40363

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Cecil Beaton (1904-1980), Photographer, designer and writer. Artist associated with 1112 portraits, Sitter associated with 361 portraits.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Clerk, Honor, The Sitwells, 1994 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 14 October - 22 January 1995), p. 115 Read entry

    In this group of photographs Edith wears the splendid brocade dress, a single ring on her left hand and a cord round her neck with a pendant (or just possibly an eyeglass). Osbert wears a lighter coloured suit, where visible, than in the previous group and his 'Cubist' tie, or the leopard-effect dressing gown. Sacheverell appears in a magnificent heavily patterned silk gown. Apart from these indications of one particular sitting, the photographs mark a development in Beaton's ideas, with the Sitwells consciously acting out roles devised for them, especially in the recumbent photographs and the 'apotheosis'.

    In the most famous photograph of the series Edith is shown lying in state with attendant wooden cherubim on the black and white linoleum tiles that Beaton had acquired for just such an event. The present print is a splendid vintage exhibition print from Beaton's collection that is an unusual variant of the much-reproduced version with Edith lying diagonally across the composition. Here she is totally shrouded in a glittering fabric that sets off the spray of lilies to far greater effect than the brocade dress of the better-known shot. The photograph was the subject of an angry scene between Beaton and Edith's mother, Lady Ida, the following year when they met at Georgia's bedside in the Paris clinic where Georgia was being treated. 'What do you mean by taking a photograph of my daughter in a coffin?' demanded Lady Ida in an exchange that nevertheless ended amicably with Beaton committing the unforgivable solecism of calling her 'Lady Sitwell'.1

    The altarpiece-like apotheosis of Edith with Osbert and Sacheverell kneeling as 'donors' was clearly planned very carefully and involved placing a folding screen on the console table in the green and gold drawing room at Sussex Gardens. Beaton's drawing of the same composition includes one of Osbert's Italian shell 'grotto' chairs, two pieces of contemporary sculpture and a Victorian glass-domed shell arrangement from Carlyle Square, none of which appear in the photograph.

    1 Sarah Bradford, Sacheverell Sitwell, Splendours and Miseries, 1993, pp 177-8.

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Amy Johnson is the first woman to fly solo to Australia. She flew the 11,000 miles from Croydon to Darwin in a De Havilland Gipsy Moth named Jason and won the Harmon Trophy as well as a CBE for her achievement. She went on to break a number of other flying records, and died while serving in the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1941.

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Stalin orders the 'liquidation of the kulaks (wealthy farmers) as a class' in a violent attempt to centralise control of agriculture and collectivise farming.

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