Sir Cecil Beaton CBE was a man for all seasons. His fashion and portrait photography set a benchmark that few have matched. He wrote well and his diaries are particularly memorable. He also designed beautiful dust jackets and was an Oscar-winning costume designer as well. Above all, he was never dull.
Beaton (1904-1980) had the quintessential English upper class education of Harrow and St Johnís College, Cambridge, but the pivotal moment of his life came when his nanny gave him an early Kodak camera.
His passion for photography eventually took him to Vogue magazine where his images helped to define the look and feel of the late 1920s and 1930s. Many of his fashion, society and celebrity images have become iconic. His style of photography featured stage management of a perfect scene that could be captured by the camera. His most famous subjects include Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Twiggy and Queen Elizabeth.
During World War II, Beaton worked for the Ministry of Information and took a famous photograph of a three-year-old girl sitting in a hospital bed holding a teddy bear after being injured in a German bombing raid. The image was widely seen in the U.S., still refusing to join the conflict at the time.
His stage, set and costume design work was varied. He won Academy awards for his costumes on the musicals Gigi and My Fair Lady, and four Tonys for his stage work.
Knighted in 1972, he was an avid diarist and published six volumes of diaries during his lifetime. As a man who met and photographed royalty, politicians, film stars, artists and the bright young things of five decades, his diaries make interesting reading. He was a shrewd and honest writer.
One of his best known books is Ashcombe, published in 1949, where he wrote about his beloved Wiltshire home. (Madonna and Guy Ritchie acquired it in 2001). Beaton only had a 15-year lease on the building and was devastated when he had to leave.
There are numerous biographies of Beaton and many collections of his photography. Hugo Vickersí biography of the photographer is worth a read.