Walker – Cecil Beaton: Portraits

imageCecil Beaton: Portraits
26 June – 31 August 2009
A stunning exhibition of nearly 50 portraits by Cecil Beaton, one of the most famous photographers of the 20th century, captures the glamour and excitement of some of the world’s greatest celebrities.

Cecil Beaton: Portraits brilliantly reflects the astonishing talents of the photographer who was also a writer, artist, designer, actor, caricaturist, illustrator and diarist.

He photographed a dazzling array of superstars and leading personalities ranging from the Queen to Mick Jagger, Marilyn Monroe to Audrey Hepburn and Winston Churchill to Lucian Freud.

Beaton (1904 – 1980) was himself a charismatic character who could charm and cajole, amuse and flirt, electrify and calm. He was known for his elegant sartorial style which exactly matched and reflected the circles he moved in. 

His long career covered an era of great change from the Roaring Twenties to the dawn of the New Romantics. Beaton’s career as a photographer began with his earliest portraits of his sister Baba taken in 1922, when he was a teenager.

After Cambridge, his early photographs were published in society magazines The Sketch, Tatler and Eve from 1925 onwards. In 1927, 23-year-old Beaton secured a contract with Vogue to provide portraits, caricatures and social commentary. His career – with the exception of two short breaks – continued with Vogue for the rest of his life.


In the 1930s he published books packed with glamorous portraits and artwork and photographed the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Wallis Simpson. Beaton also took a striking series of romantic studies of Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother).

His work took on a grittier aspect during the war and post-war years when he worked for the Ministry of Information and as an official war photographer.

Beaton reached the height of his powers in the 1950s and 60s when he became a household name. As well as creating great portraits of a new generation of film actresses such as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, he won Oscars for his design work in the blockbuster films Gigi and My Fair Lady.

Knighted in 1972, Beaton had a stroke in 1974 but returned to photography three years later. Among his subjects in his final years were fashion designers and international celebrities.

Highlights of Cecil Beaton: Portraits include:

Audrey Hepburn (1929 – 1993): Film actress best known for her roles in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady. Beaton said of Hepburn: “Nobody looked like her before World War II”.

Marilyn Monroe (1926 – 1962): Born Norma Jeane Mortenson, Monroe became hugely successful in such hits as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like It Hot before her tragic early death.

Lucian Freud (born 1922): One of Britain’s greatest portrait painters was photographed by Beaton for Harper’s Bazaar.

Jackie Onassis (1929 – 1994): Jackie Lee Bouvier was photographed at about the time she met her future husband John F Kennedy (later US President).

Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992): Leading British artist Bacon, a friend of Beaton, painted the photographer but destroyed the work after Beaton expressed horror at the unflattering portrait.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles: This was one of a series of mother and child photographs taken at Clarence House when Charles was nearly two.

Cecil Beaton: Portraits is organised by the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Venue details