Cecil Beaton: Portraits
In the superb essay accompanying this companion to a British National Portrait Gallery exhibition, contributor Peter Conrad portrays Cecil Beaton (1904-80) as a man dedicated to ideal beauty. He photographed performers in particular to hold them at their peak against the ravages of time, and he planned very conscientiously settings that would enhance their allure. Bearing Conrad out, here are iconic portraits of Gary Cooper, Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, and beauties whose fame has fled (just look at Gwili Andre–who?). Beaton never overcooked, so to speak, his portraits, a la the great Hollywood photographers; his beauties usually seem to live in the world the rest of us inhabit. Beaton carried his idealism into portraiture of the British royal family; Churchill; great artists, such as Picasso; and even a little girl in hospital as a consequence of the Blitz. Unfortunately, several pictures Conrad cites don’t appear among the 151 plates and 66 figures in the book, which is vexing but hardly reason not to acquire this luscious volume.
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