Born in London’s prosperous Hampstead in 1904, Cecil Beaton went to school with Evelyn Waugh (who bullied him), and Cyril Connolly (who admired the beauty of his singing). Taught photography by his nanny, Beaton found work assisting cutting-edge young photographer Paul Tanqueray, and became famous for his portraits of the Bright Young Things – the decadent young socialites of the 1920s and 30s, whose hedonistic lives were captured in Waugh’s glittering, somewhat fatalistic novel Vile Bodies.
Beaton was taken on by Vogue in 1927 and moved to the US in 1929; he was a staff photographer for both Vogue and Vanity Fair until 1938, when he was fired for inserting anti-Semitic phrases by the side of an illustration of New York society in American Vogue. Returning to Britain, he went on to take photographs for the British Ministry of Information during World War Two and later rehabilitated his career, going on to photograph stars such as Mick Jagger, Marilyn Monroe, and Andy Warhol. He also launched a successful career in set and costume design in the 1950s and 60s.
But it’s his photographs from the 1930s that star in The Fashion and Textile Museum, where a display titled Cecil Beaton: Thirty from the 1930s – Fashion, Film, Fantasy will show off the work that helped define an era. Curated by Terence Pepper, the display includes Beaton’s photograph of heiress Daisy Fellowes, wearing a custom-made Cartier necklace, for example; it also takes in Beaton’s icily glamorous portrait of Merle Oberon, who was born in the-then Bombay and went on to star in films such as The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Dark Angel.
The Beaton display is part of a much larger exhibition titled Night and Day: 1930s Fashion & Photographs, which includes day and evening fashions of this tumultuous decade, the advertising photographs and magazines that helped popularise them, and iconic photographs of the stars who championed them – shot by pioneering image-makers such as Beaton’s one-time employer, Paul Tanqueray.
Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photographs and Cecil Beaton: Thirty from the 30s – Fashion, Film and Fantasy are on show at The Fashion and Textile Museum, 83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF from 12 October 2018 – 20 January 2019 www.ftmlondon.org