Photography and books: Cecil Beaton

Cecil Beaton, contact sheet of The Royal Family, Buckingham Palace, October 1942 (featuring King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret) © V&A Images

We must admit that we weren’t that enthused about this exhibition of Beaton on the Royal Family when we heard about it – lots of stiff, formal portraits really isn’t our thing.  How much more this little show turned out to be, though.  It was the savvy Queen Mother who chose Beaton to take pictures of the royal family, writing to him, ‘We must be deeply grateful to you for producing us, as really quite nice and real people’.  And, as well as more formal pictures of the coronation, that’s what we get to see – the Queen as a teenager in 1942 and a very young and rather cross-looking Prince Charles and Princess Anne playing with the Queen Mother – intimate, family pictures that give a real behind-the-scenes feel of intimacy.  It’s Beaton whose the real star here though, (and it’s interesting to see how much retouching and cutting inches of the Queen’s waist, Beaton is responsible for too), so don’t miss the end section at the end of show.  With a focus on Beaton and his career, our highlight was some excerpts from a brilliant documentary by a long-haired David Bailey on Beaton that shows him photographing a young, jokey David Hockney and talking about his relationship with the Sitwell family.

And even if you don’t make it to the exhibition, we’d recommend two brilliant books:  Beaton: the art of the scrapbook is a fantastic, huge tome of Beaton’s world by Assouline and Beaton, the NY years by Skira has some fascinating portraits of all the great and good of the time.  Both are available at the V&A shop or on Amazon below.

Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton
Until 22 April 2012
— Francesca
9th February 2012

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