Photo credit Cecil Beaton /The Victoria and Albert Museum
Yesterday I attended a preview of Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton, A Diamond Jubilee Celebration, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Sir Cecil Beaton was a photographer, illustrator, designer and artist whose career took off in the 1920’s. Working for Vogue, he became one of the leading fashion photographers of the era, but his biggest break occurred in 1939 when the Queen (mother of our current Queen) asked him to take her portrait. It was the beginning of an enduring relationship with the Royal Family. Beaton portrayed the royals as no one had ever done before, and was a huge part of transforming the image of the monarchy through some of the more difficult periods of the twentieth century, including the Second World War.
Beaton’s iconic photographs are so much a part of popular culture that it is inevitable you will have seen some of his work before. However, as well as familiar images, this exhibition contains many hitherto unseen examples of his photographs of the Royal Family. There is also a chance to see scrapbooks, letters and even Beaton’s favourite camera.
I was very pleased to also have the opportunity to attend a talk by the curator of the exhibit, Susanna Brown. The V&A were well placed to mount this exhibit as Beaton’s royal portraits form one of the largest bodies of work by a single photographer in their collection. Susanna recalled going through about 18,000 vintage prints, negatives and transparencies while compiling the exhibit. Beaton’s well written diaries were also a great asset.
It was interesting to learn how Beaton’s flamboyant and charming personality and his sense of style were reflected in his early photographs. Many of these featured flowers from his own garden, and elaborate backdrops that were an homage to classic paintings from hundreds of years before, by artists like Fragonard and Gainsborough.
The exhibit itself is beautifully laid out, and offers a unique view of the Royal Family. A handwritten letter from the Queen Mother delightedly thanks Cecil Beaton for a book of royal portraits he sent her, and portraits I have never seen before show her as a doting grandmother. Beaton captures Queen Elizabeth II as a young girl turning into a beautiful woman, and later as a wife and mother, as well as, of course, a reigning monarch. Early photographs of Prince Philip show a dashing young prince with a glint in his eye, and it’s easy to see how he could turn the head of a Princess. The Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton exhibit is a trip back in time, a little piece of history and a delightful way to spend an hour or so.
Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton, A Diamond Jubilee Celebration, opens today and runs until 22nd April 2012 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. You can book tickets on the V&A website. If you are unable to get to London an excellent book about the exhibition by Susanna Brown isavailable for purchase online. The exhibition will also be going on tour in the UK, as well as to select locations in Australia and Canada.
Shared with The Gallery of Favorites.