The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, is presenting 'Cecil Beaton: Celebrating Celebrity', the first exhibition in Russia dedicated to one of the greatest master-photographers of the 20th century. The exhibition is organised by the State Hermitage Museum in collaboration with Cecil Beatons Studio Archive and the Hermitage Foundation UK.
Presenting approximately one hundred images from throughout Cecil Beaton's career, the exhibition will feature some of his most celebrated works while also exploring his creative methods through a selection of rare and previously unseen photographs, including archival prints, contact sheets and scrapbooks.
Cecil Beatons (1904 1980) career spanned five decades, starting with his friendship with the bright young things of the 1920s, moving on to serious images of fashion, theatre, ballet and the social scene in the 1930s. He became a war artist in the 1940s and from the 1950s his career was crowned as he became the official photographer to the royal family of the United Kingdom. Core to the exhibition's concept is the interweaving history of photography and celebrity culture, seen through Beatons professional biography. He was born into a middle-class family; being a total self-creation, as his friend Truman Capote once described him, he elevated to the upper echelons of British society with the help of his photographic talent and personal charm. Starting by photographing his own friends 'dressed up', he moved on to work for 'Vogue' and 'Vanity Fair', capturing portraits of Hollywood stars and of royalty and being welcomed in some of the most aristocratic and wealthy houses in Europe. Not only was he invited to one of the most luxurious social events of the century, the Beistegui ball in Venice in 1951, but his work served as inspiration to such events: is was Beatons costume design for My Fair Lady that inspired the chic Black and White Ball.
Beaton also made a significant contribution to the development of fashion photography, with an inherent instinct to dramatise the boundaries between real life and dreams. He famously claimed his job was to stage an apotheosis and saw social life as a performance of a persona that is defined through garments, gestures, and surroundings. He refined his theatrical sensibility in a series of images that became iconic for the 20th century. Beaton witnessed how the face of fame was changing, and made a dramatic contribution to the development of glamorous tabloid media. Having made his way into the beau monde, he came to be one of the most important and rigorous arbiters of good taste, and was always at the very centre of celebrity culture, which was the precursor of modern social media.
Hugo Vickers, Cecil Beaton's biographer, notes: The key to Cecil Beatons approach to life was visual, and since he was a photographer of great distinction perhaps that is all that mattered. Cecil Beaton minded how things looked more than how things were. Anyone examining his work should remember that his first love was the theatre and therefore a strong theme of theatricality permeates everything he did. Truman Capote wrote perceptively of Beatons visual intelligence. Beatons eye missed nothing. Capote was right to say: The camera will never be invented that could capture and encompass all that he actually sees. Gillian Sutro pointed out: If there was a safety pin somewhere, he would find it.
Renowned images to be shown at the Hermitage include 'Nancy Beaton as a fallen star'; 'Audrey Hepburn for My Fair Lady'; and 'Self Portrait as Nadar'. Some of the rarely-seen images include an archival print of Charles James fitting a model which includes marks made by Beaton's hand with red pencil; a recently-discovered full frame, uncropped image of the renowned 'White Panama hat', taken for Vogue in 1934; a contact sheet of portraits taken of Marlon Brando in Japan; a little-known collage of Rudolf Nureyev with a sense of pop-art in its execution; and two photographs that Beaton took on his trip to the USSR in 1935; a portrait of Elsa Schiaparelli and a self-portrait in a fur coat.
The exhibition 'Cecil Beaton: Celebrating Celebrity' is organized by the Contemporary Art Department of The State Hermitage Museum (Dr. Dimitri Ozerkov is the Head of that Department). The exhibition curator is Daria Panaiotti, Researcher in the Contemporary Art Department. An illustrated academic catalogue accompanies the exhibition (both in English and in Russian). It contains an introduction by Prof. Mikhail Piotrovsky, the General Director of the State Hermitage Museum, and essays by Daria Panaiotti, Hugo Vickers and Dr. Olga Khoroshilova, the fashion and cultural historian. An additional emphasis is made on Cecil Beatons travel to the USSR in 1935. (Fontanka Publishing House, London, 2020).