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"Cecil Beaton at Home: Ashcombe & Reddish" on view at the Salisbury Museum
Ashcombe House, by Rex Whistler, 1930s, Ashcombe © Private Collection.

SALISBURY.- This exhibition is part of Salisbury Museum’s ongoing series of exhibitions exploring significant British artists with links to the locality, and follows their highly successful shows on Constable and Rex Whistler.

Cecil Beaton at Home explores the private retreats created by Cecil Beaton at his two country houses in Wiltshire. Curated by Andrew Ginger in association with the Museum’s Exhibitions Officer, Kim Chittick, the exhibition reveals Beaton, the man behind the camera. Against recreations of his extravagant interiors and gardens, Beaton’s private life unfolds – the unique talent for self-promotion, his love of theatricality and uncertain pursuit of love. Reuniting many previously unseen photographs, artworks, furniture and possessions from both homes, the show offers fascinating insights into Beaton’s interior life and creative inspirations.

Sir Cecil was one of Britain’s most successful exports of the 20th century. His iconic portraits and fashion photography for American Vogue, his Oscar winning sets and costume, as well as theatre, ballet and opera designs, continue to captivate and inspire generations of young designers across the world. “Beaton’s two houses near Salisbury were his refuge from a madly heavy workload,” said curator Andrew Ginger, who is Director of Beaudesert Ltd and The Cecil Beaton Fabric Collection. “Beaton described his life in the country as ‘an oasis of luxury and civilisation,’ which was both restorative and inspirational to his work. The design of his home was approached with the same attention to detail as any theatrical production.”

Cecil Beaton was just one of the extraordinary creative talents that have lived, and continue to live in the Wessex region. “The local aspect is vital,” said Adrian Green, Director of Salisbury Museum. “Our exhibitions are designed to reflect local interest - and also to appeal to a large national and international audience.”

Highlights of the exhibition include a show-stopping recreation of Beaton’s ‘Circus Bed’ complete with unicorns, sea horses, Neptune and barley-twist posts. Made by specialist bed-makers Beaudesert Ltd, the bed will be the central display in a reconstructed room lined with copies of murals by close friends Oliver Messel and Rex Whistler. Pages of Beaton’s Visitors Book will reveal a dazzling list of royalty, artists and other guests who enjoyed Beaton’s lavish hospitality. Beaton’s love life is sympathetically handled, including his complicated affair with Greta Garbo, and his only live-in partnership with Kin Hoitsma, the athletic 30-year old Californian academic who Beaton met when he was 60. The supportive roles of his mother Esther and secretary, Eileen Hose, are given equal prominence.

Sketches of his interiors painted with the left hand after his stroke, give a poignant sense of the hidden vulnerabilities and willpower of the man. Beaton also made exquisite paintings of local children, which will be on display alongside listening stations where locals recount first-hand memories of their talented neighbour.

Sculptures, paintings, fancy dress costumes, vintage photographs, original letters, diaries, decorative elements, catalogues, scrapbooks and press cuttings will also be displayed to create a truly immersive experience within the Museum’s galleries. Exhibits include loans from the Victoria & Albert Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, private collections, and the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s.

The Exhibition curated by Beaudesert Ltd and The Cecil Beaton Fabric Collection in collaboration with Salisbury Museum.

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