Monday, August 6, 2012

Just Because: Cecil Beaton (1904 - 1980)

1935 Vogue Cover by Cecil Beaton -  Source: Conde Nast

"Be daring, be different, 
be impractical, Be anything
that will assert integrity of purpose 
and imaginative vision against the
play-it-safers, the creatures of the
commonplace. The slaves of the

Cecil Beaton

In 1944, in one of its more inspired moments, the British Ministry of Information dispatched Cecil Beaton– self-dramatizing exquisite, darling of London society, chosen photographer to royalty, and later the world-famous designer of My Fair Lady and Gigi–to the Far East to take pictures of the British Empire and its allies at war. The result was not only a superb collection of photographs but a breathtakingly vivid written portrait of India, Burma, and China at a historic turning-point in their histories. 

These volumes integrate both elements fully for the first time, offering the complete text of Beaton’s narrative and a truly comprehensive selection of over 200 photographs. Beaton was a great observer and, perhaps unexpectedly, a great describer. In remarkably few words, he can make you see, hear, smell, almost touch the dusty Burmese countryside, the shimmering, casual magnificence of a Bombay virtually untouched by war, or the rain-sodden, flea-bitten front lines in a China nearly destroyed by it. 

He was an acute observer of people, too, and these books offer revealing glimpses of representative wartime figures from Madame Sun Yat-sen and General Claire Chennault to anonymous British soldiers and Chinese peasants. There is mayhem, including an electrifying description of what it’s like to live through a plane crash, and mordant social comedy that rivals (and explains much of) The Jewel in the Crown. 

Perhaps best of all are Beaton’s accounts of the two great invariants of modern war–waiting for transport and enduring it–in all their exquisite variety. A magnificent record of some of Beaton’s most austere and disciplined photography and a welcome reminder of his almost forgotten literary gifts, these books offer a uniquely real picture of one of the most heroic episodes of recent history.'
Source: RDuJour 
                                         The Result:
Source: Shelley Davies

More of Cecil Beaton's work:

Chinese Album - Cecil Beaton by mona
Source: Shelley Davies

Cecil Beaton photographed by Irving Penn
Source: Christie's

Source: loveisspeed

To view a good selection of Cecil Beaton photographs, please use this link.

To learn about Cecil Beaton's life and times, please use this link.


  1. Hi, Yvette -

    The links are fascinating - interesting to see celebrities of Beaton's period, disappointing to read about his character traits ...

  2. Yvette - I would love to get my hands on these books! However, I see that "Cecil Beaton's Scrapbook" is listed at nearly $400 on Amazon. Perhaps the library...

    Last year I came upon a poster for a 1970′s exhibition in Italy of Cecil Beaton photographs. The photo used for the poster is of Marlene it is:

  3. Hello Yvette:
    We are a great admirer of Beaton and are fortunate to have many of his books, including all of his diaries, as First Editions.

  4. Mark, I sometimes think that it's the very bad behavior of these artists which somehow fuels their work. Not for everyone of course, but it's an idea I've had for awhile.

  5. Eve I have some photos of Marlene Dietrich taken by Beaton on my Pinterest boards. He did beautiful work with the beautiful people of his day. Showed them off to glamorous perfection.

    I'll check out your link and see if it's one of the ones I pinned. :)

    Yes, the library is your best bet unless you have wads of cash. :)

  6. Jane and Lance you are both very fortunate indeed. Beaton's work is very much worth collecting. I wish I'd learned of it early on when I could probably have gotten my hands on some of his books at reasonable prices.

    I'd always heard of him of course and knew of his movie work, but didn't realize how very very talented he was in other mediums.

  7. I just adore Cecil Beaton and have a copy of The Royal Portraits on my shelf. It's delicious rainy Saturday afternoon reading (really looking at pictures but whatever). I took a photography class sophomore year of high school and we had to do a presentation on a famous photographer. I chose Beaton. Love him to bits. Evidently Evelyn Waugh was mean to him when they were at school together. Bad Evelyn!

  8. Lauren, Evelyn Waugh was mean to everyone. Ha.

    I don't have any Beaton books on hand, but what I've seen online makes me think I ought to.


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