Cecil Beaton Drawings
Past display archive
12 December 2003 - 8 June 2004
Cecil Beaton is best remembered for his elegant and sophisticated fashion and society photographs. He also enjoyed success in other spheres, as a stage designer, writer and illustrator, and had a gift for drawing as well as photographing portraits. This display of drawings and designs from the Gallery's Archive complements the retrospective of his photographs, Cecil Beaton: Portraits (5 February - 31 May 2004 in the Wolfson Gallery) by illustrating these other aspects of his oeuvre.
After a privileged upbringing in Edwardian Hampstead, at Harrow and Cambridge, his career took off after meeting the Sitwells in late 1926 when he produced an innovative photograph of Edith as a Medieval tomb sculpture. He was introduced to artistic, avant-garde and glittering circles, and quickly developed a wide reputation for his beautiful, often striking and fantastic photographs, which culminated in his portraits of Queen Elizabeth in 1939.
In stark contrast he also proved to be an inspired photojournalist when employed by the Ministry of Information to photograph the country at war. After 1945, he concentrated increasingly on designing for stage, film, ballet and opera, winning accolades and awards. Throughout his life he also produced a large number of illustrated books recording people, travels and experiences. Notable amongst these are a series of diaries spanning half a century from 1922 to 1974, which record his life and many-faceted career as well as providing a unique portrait of the age.
Beaton was awarded the CBE in 1957 and a Knighthood in 1972, two years before serious illness forced an end to his long career. With his immense style, extraordinary visual sense, fascination with new ideas and boundless energy, he is regarded as a seminal arbiter of 20th century taste.
The drawings and designs in this display are part of a collection of works on paper bequeathed by Beaton to his secretary, Eileen Hose. Together with copyright for all Beaton's graphic work, they were donated to the National Portrait Gallery after her death in 1991.