Fine Art Photography Series
Cecil Beaton

Portrait Photographer for Vogue, Harpers Bazaar.

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Cecil Beaton.
One of the top fashion photographers
of the 20th century.

Cecil Beaton (1904-80)


Cecil Beaton's Photography
Selected Exhibitions
Portraits by Cecil Beaton
Great Portrait Photographers
Great Fashion Photographers

For more about the early inventions upon which Beaton's lens-based art is founded, see: History of Photography (c.1800-1900).

For a short explanation of
camera and photographic
terms, please see:

Art Photography Glossary.

For the Top 80 camera
artists and inventors, see:
Photographers: 19th-Century.

Cecil Beaton's Photography

Ranked among the greatest photographers in England, Cecil Beaton was important for the elegance and decorative style of his celebrity portrait art, although he was also regarded as the doyen of British fashion photography. His contribution to fine art photography spanned more than half a century, during which time he photographed a host of world leaders, royalty, film stars, international artists, and other VIPs. Elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain in 1965, and knighted in 1972, he is also noted for his stage and costume design for films and the theatre, which won him 2 Oscars, as well as his painting and writings. Today he is regarded as one of England's best portrait artists and a key contributor to modern art as captured on film.

For a brief guide to the aesthetics and artistic nature of lens-based art, please see: Is Photography Art?


Important photo: Audrey Hepburn (1964) Photographed by Cecil Beaton.


Born in Hampstead, London, Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton is educated at Heath Mount School (along with Evelyn Waugh who bullies him) and at St Cyprian's School, Eastbourne (along with George Orwell). He learns the rudiments of camera work and photographic printing from his nanny, and at 11 receives his first camera - a Kodak 3A folding camera. (Note: during his career, he will use both large format cameras, and smaller Rolleiflex cameras, without ever excelling as a camera technician.) Fired with enthusiasm, Beaton becomes a prolific photographer. In 1922 he begins a degree course in history, fine art and architecture at St John's College, Cambridge, but spends much of his time doing caricature art, working in the theatre and taking photographs. In 1925 he abandons his studies and becomes part of the young art scene in London. Amazingly, his first one-man exhibition of photography, held at the Cooling Galleries in London, proves to be an extraordinary success and leads to a lucrative contract as a staff photographer with Conde Nast Publications, publishers of Vogue magazine. This establishes him as a leading portrait photographer, and he gradually develops a zest for arty, stylized, staged portraits, inspired by great American camera artists such as Edward Steichen (1879-1973) and Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946).

In 1929 he is the only Englishman to participate in the Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart. In 1933 he travels to Paris - still the centre of art - where he meets the writer Jean Cocteau, as well as members of the Ecole de Paris. He also takes a trip to North Africa with the fashion photographer Baron George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-68). From 1935 he does regular set design and costume design work for the theatre, while producing (from 1937) numerous portraits of the English aristocracy. During the 1930s - in both England and America - he continues to develop and refine his unique style of portraiture in which the subject is merely one element within the overall composition - which now also includes costume, background and pose. The results are surreal, sumptuous, whimsical, exotic or plain bizarre, but always chic. A copious number of these portraits appear in his photographic books: The Book of Beauty (1930), Persona Grata (1953) and It Gives Me Great Pleasure (1955).

In 1938, while in America, his indiscreet anti-Semitic statements lead to his dismissal from Vogue (who re-hires him in 1940). In 1939 he photographs Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and is hired by the Ministry of Information as a war photographer. In 1940 he documents historic London buildings destroyed in bombing raids. In 1942 he works as an RAF cameraman in the Middle East, and in 1944 he visits war zones in India and China.

After the war Beaton resumes his career as a portrait photographer, but his style becomes noticeably less flamboyant, clearer and more direct. He also resumes his costume and set design work for the theatre. In 1953 he takes the official coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. (For a younger British photographer just starting to take portraits of Churchill and Hemingway, see Larry Burrows 1926-71.) In 1955 he designs the costumes for Lerner and Loewe's musical My Fair Lady. In 1956 he moves to Harper's Bazaar magazine, for whom he photographs big-screen celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Joan Crawford. In 1958 he wins an Oscar for his designs on the film Gigi. During the 1960s, he photographs numerous iconic pop culture and musical celebrities, like Twiggy, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. In 1964 he wins an Oscar for his designs for the film version of My Fair Lady. During the 60s Beaton exerts considerable influence over David Bailey (b.1938). In 1971, in collaboration with Gail Buckland, he writes "The Magic Image" - a history of photography. In 1979, he travels to Paris on assignment for Vogue magazine. He dies in January 1980, aged 76.

Selected Exhibitions

Here is a selected list of Beaton's one-man shows.

1927 London (Cooling Galleries)
1929 Stuttgart (Film und Foto)
1936 London (Redfern Gallery)
1968 London (National Portrait Gallery)
1969 New York (Museum of the City)
1971 London (Victoria and Albert Museum)
1981 London (Imperial War Museum])
1985 London (Barbican Art Gallery)
1991 London (Victoria and Albert Museum)
2004 London (National Portrait Gallery)
2005 Vienna (Kunsthaus)
2005 Amsterdam (Fotografie museum Amsterdam)
2005 Victoria, Australia (Bendigo Art Gallery)
2006 Christchurch, New Zealand (Christchurch Art Gallery)

Portraits by Cecil Beaton

Here is a short selected list of his many photographic portraits.

Portraits of Royalty
Helen of Greece and Denmark, Queen Mother of Romania (1937)
Queen Sita Devi of Kapurthala (1940)
Duchess of Windsor (1951)
Queen Elizabeth II (1953)
Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon (1960)

Portraits of Politicians
Winston Churchill (1940)
Charles de Gaulle (1941)

Portraits of Film Stars
Lillian Gish (1929)
Marlene Dietrich (1935)
Gary Cooper (1931)
Greta Garbo (1946)
Yul Brynner (1946)
Vivien Leigh (1947)
Marlon Brando (1947)
Elizabeth Taylor (1954)
Grace Kelly (1954)
Joan Crawford (1956)
Marilyn Monroe (1956)
Audrey Hepburn (1964)
Katherine Hepburn (1969)
Jane Birkin (1971)
Mae West (1970)

Portraits of Artists
Sir William Walton (1926)
Pablo Picasso (1933)
Aldous Huxley (1936)
Salvador Dali (1936)
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1939)
Graham Sutherland (1940)
Walter Sickert (1942)
Graham Greene (1953)
Bernard Berenson (Art Critic) (1955)
Maria Callas (1956)
Colin Wilson (1956)
Rudolf Nureyev (1963)
Margot Fonteyn (1965)
Georgia O'Keeffe (1966)
Andy Warhol (1967)
Mick Jagger (1968)
Barbara Streisand (1969)
David Hockney (1970)
Gilbert & George (1974)

High Society Portraits
Lady Diana Cooper (1928)
Lord David Cecil (1930)
Lady Georgia Sitwell (1930)
Daisy Fellowes (1937)
Vita Sackville-West (1952)
Dame Edith Sitwell (1956)
Lee Radziwill (1962)
Jacqueline Kennedy (1965)

Photographic portraits by Cecil Beaton are regularly shown in some of the best galleries of contemporary art in Europe and America.

Portrait Photographers

For other renowned camera artists best-known for their portraits, please see the following forthcoming articles.

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Man Ray (1890-1976)
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002)
Norman Parkinson (1913-90)
Hans Namuth (1915-90)
Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Don McCullin (b.1935)
Annie Leibovitz (b.1949)

Fashion Photographers

For other artists best-known for their fashion photography in glossy women's magazines, including the likes of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Vanity Fair and so on, who would have known Beaton's work, please see the following forthcoming articles.

Irving Penn (1917-2009)
Helmut Newton (1920-2004)
Richard Avedon (1923-2004)
• Patrick Demarchelier (b.1943)

• For another type of camera-based artform, see: Animation Art.
• For more about photographic portraits, see: Homepage.

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