While writing my graduate thesis in 2005 I came across a book of portraits taken by Cecil Beaton of the British royal family. The images are magical, whimsical, perfectly lit and just pure fantasy really. He seems to have captured the fairytale ideal that the monarchy have created in the minds of many and I fell in love with many of the images.
Here is a collection of some of the images of the queens, princesses and duchesses which I found again in an image search (since the original copies I had were just photostats from the Michaelis Library).
The Victoria and Albert Museum, who exhibited many of these works wrote about the photographer:
The photographs of the British royal family by Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) were central to shaping the monarchy’s public image in the mid-20th century. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was still a young princess when she first sat for Beaton in 1942. Over the next three decades he would be invited to photograph the Queen on many significant occasions, including her Coronation Day in 1953.
The most memorable of Beaton’s images combine the splendour of historic royal portrait painting with an intimacy that only photography and film can convey. His detailed diary accounts reveal the complexities of each sitting, from the intense planning and excitement beforehand to the pressures of achieving the perfect shot.
Photographs, diaries, personal letters and press cuttings combine to tell the fascinating story of a magnificent collaboration between crown and camera.
‘The telephone rang. ‘This is the lady-in-waiting speaking. The Queen wants to know if you will photograph her tomorrow afternoon’ … In choosing me to take her photographs, the Queen made a daring innovation. It is inconceivable that her predecessor would have summoned me – my work was still considered revolutionary and unconventional.’
Cecil Beaton’s diary, July 1939
The opportunity to photograph Queen Elizabeth, was the high point of Beaton’s career to date. Published two months after the outbreak of the Second World War, his images presented a sense of continuity with a magnificent pre-war Britain. Several wartime sittings of the Queen and her family would reinforce his vision of a seemingly unshakable monarchy and witness the transformation of her daughter Princess Elizabeth from girl to young woman.
The flowers that appear in many of Beaton’s portraits were often picked from his own garden. Cascading arrangements of roses, carnations, lilies and hydrangeas filled the space between a photographic backdrop and the sitter, and were an essential prop in the creation of his idealised Arcadian scenes.
His sense of composition, staged scenario and the styling of the subjects appeals to my aesthetic. And my all-time favourite of which I can’t find an online version…