Cecil Beaton’s Royal Portraits

Princess Elizabeth by Cecil Beaton, March 1945 © V&A Images
Cecil Beaton by Curtis Moffat, about 1930 © V&A Images

I pottered along to the V&A yesterday to have a wander around the 100 or so photographs that make up this exhibition to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  Beaton photographed Elizabeth throughout her lifetime from her years as a teenage princess through to her coronation and after the birth of each of her four children

Contact sheet of the Royal Family, Cecil Beaton, Buckingham Palace, October 1942 © V&A Images

I loved peering for the first time at previously unseen pictures of a young and relaxed princess with her sister decked in beautiful Norman Hartnoll gorgeousness (one borrowed from her mother).  The early pictures show the young princesses in a fantastical, Arcadian fairytale world (even using flowers cut from Beaton’s own garden), moving on to a starker, more minimalist approach for the intimate images of the Queen soon after the birth of her four children, perhaps reflecting a new hunger for the royals to be seen as a bit more ‘real’

Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Andrew by Cecil Beaton 1960 © V&A Images

We forget these weren’t simply pictures to commemorate the birth of a child or special occasion, these images were sent around the world to a public hungry for an insight into Royal family life.  There are also the previously un-exhibited shots of the damage to Buckingham Palace from bombs during WWII, I had no idea the palace was bombed no less than nine times during the war

t’s a really well curated show, I loved the pictures of the Queen preparing for her Coronation day in 1953 surrounded by her maids of honour sweetly fussing around her whilst looking like something out of a glittering fairytale.  Staggering to think about the time and effort that went into setting up these shots…


Cecil Beaton, Queen Elizabeth II in Coronation Robes, 1953 © V&A Images

The end of the show is dedicated to Beaton himself: there’s a great little film about him by David Bailey with Cecil shooting pictures of fellow artists including David Hockney and admitting to cooing “like a bloody dove” during photo shoots, constantly reassuring his subjects with exclamations such as “Perfection! Scintillating!” etc.  The collection also features a number of photographs, negatives and transparencies as well as extracts from Beaton’s diaries, letters and even his visitors book – which includes on one page the signatures of Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Henri Cartier Bresson.  Pretty cool.

Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration runs until 22nd April before touring Leeds, Norwich, Dundee and Newcastle. Tickets cost £6 www.vam.ac.uk

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