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Cecil Beaton – photographer

August 21, 2015

After our previous blog on Angus McBean it seemed fitting somehow to talk about another famous photographer, Sir Cecil Beaton who was not only a photographer, but an award-winning costume and stage designer, in similar fashion to McBean.

Sir Cecil Beaton – photographer, set designer

Cecil Beaton was born in London to a timber merchant whose grandfather had founded the business back in the day, and the business had prospered.

A Kodak 3A camera and the nanny

He was an artistic child and his talents were soon recognised.He was taught some early photography skills by his nanny who owned a Kodak 3A camera.

He took family portraits to start off including one of his sister, Baba. He then started sending photographs off to London magazines.

Cambridge and an exhibition

He studied art, history and architecture at Cambridge and had a portrait published in Vogue while he was still a student.

After some futile months doing office work upon graduating in the mid-20s, taking photographs at the weekend, Beaton had his first success with an exhibition at a London Gallery (Cooling).

Cecil Beaton: Wartime Photographer/RAF. Cecil Beaton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cecil Beaton: Wartime Photographer/Royal Air Force. Cecil Beaton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

He swiftly left for American shores and in New York his reputation as a photographer secured him a contract with Conde Naste.He would take photographs exclusively for Conde Nast for several years.


He became friends with many famous film starts including Greta Garbo.He lived at Reddish House (back in the UK) and lived there till his death in 1980.

Set designs, costumes and Academy Awards

He also designed sets and costumes for the Broadway Stage and was in charge of the lighting for Lady Windermere’s Fan in 1946.


He created the costumes for My Fair Lady in 1956, the films Gigi in 1958 and My Fair Lady in 1964 leading him to win Academy Award for costume design, he also designed the costumes for On A Clear Day You Can See Forever in 1970.

Sir Cecil Beaton  – Five decades of photography

Beaton, like McBean was accomplished in stage and design as well as photography, and left behind a wealth of photographs from over 5 decades of his career.


He captured fashion, celebrities and art, from Marilyn Monroe to the Rolling Stones, Greta Garbo to Wallis Simpson.


His photographs include shots of Tallulah Bankhead, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Loretta Young, Pablo Picasso, Elsa Schiaparelli, Audrey Hepburn, Jean Cocteau and Coco Chanel.

Beaton, war photographer and the Royals

As well as the stars of stage and screen he was also commissioned in 1939 to take pictures of the Royal Family.


He was also an official war photographer where his haunting pictures of land girls, Eileen Dunne a 3 year old blitz survivor, and portraits of the wartime artist Cecil Day-Lewis, Walter Sickert and the composer Benjamin Britten.

Photographs that inspire the vintage looks we crave

Beaton’s photographs capture the imagination, and like McBean, have given us the inspiration to love vintage, whatever that may mean for the individual, cameras, vintage furnishings or simply vintage fashion.


Those iconic shots of Monroe, Simpson, Dietrich and Twiggy have given many of us that spur to try out the make-up and clothes of the movie stars.

It is Hepburn, Monroe and Garbo that photographed so beautifully by Beaton and McBean, make us fall in love with them over and over again