A NEW exhibition of photographs depicting the lavish lifestyle of society diarist and photographer Cecil Beaton opens at Wilton House tomorrow.
Curated by Jasper Conran, the exhibition showcases previously unseen images, giving a fascinating glimpse into Beaton’s life and painting a vivid portrait of his charmed world.
The pictures, from Sotheby’s Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, cover the roaring 20s to the swinging 60s.
It will be staged at Wilton House where Beaton was entertained by his friends the Pembroke family at grand parties and pageants for more than 50 years.
Described as “one of Britain’s most successful exports of the 20th century”, Beaton was in high demand as a photographer for magazines including American Vogue, and as a Broadway set designer, royal photographer and writer, publishing six volumes of diaries.
Among those he photographed were the Queen Mother, Winston Churchill, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, and his private life was equally eventful with a complicated affair with Greta Garbo and live-in partner Kin Hoitsma, a man 30 years his junior.
Beaton was at the forefront of the fashion world and won many awards for his designs.
As fancy dress became a popular feature of country house parties - with costume balls being the highlight of the society calendar - Beaton managed to combine his high-society personal life with his career as an artist and designer.
A new exhibition space at Wilton House has been created after a renovation project.
Despite being pushed into a river at the first ball he attended at Wilton, Beaton went on to become great friends with the Pembrokes and chronicled three generations of the family.
He attended his 76th birthday party at the house just three days before his death in 1980.
Beaton was born in Hampstead, London in 1904 and was already in demand as a society and magazine photographer at the outbreak of the Second World War.
While serving with the Ministry of Information he was asked to take pictures of the Home Front, and his images showing the destruction caused by The Blitz were both shocking and evocative.
One image of an injured threeyear- old girl clutching her teddy bear appeared in the US press and is credited with helping to sway the opinion of the American people in support of joining the conflict.
After the war Beaton worked as an actor, set designer, writer and costume designer, winning two Academy Awards for his costume designs in the musicals Gigi and My Fair Lady.
Stars of the stage and screen continued to flock to him for photographs, and among the famous names who posed for him were Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Margot Fonteyn and Mae West.
Beaton first visited Ashcombe House in Berwick St John in 1930 and lived there until 1945, restoring and redecorating the house to meet his lavish tastes.
He designed the Ashcombe Stripe fabric in honour of his beloved home which was later bought by Madonna and her then husband, film director Guy Ritchie.
Beaton bought Reddish House near Broad Chalke in 1947 and is buried in the village’s churchyard.
The Wilton House exhibition will be complemented by Salisbury Museum’s Cecil Beaton at Home: Ashcombe & Reddish exhibition, which runs from May 23 to September 19, showing the enduring public interest in the photographer’s lavish lifestyle.
“There is a strong family connection with Cecil Beaton and although I was too young to remember him, my mother and older sisters have very fond memories of him here at Wilton,” said Lord Pembroke.
“The images that have been chosen are fascinating both as social history and also for their technical brilliance.
“Beaton was a genius when it came to studio photography but he also excelled at capturing spontaneous shots of pure joy.
“I hope the exhibition gives as much pleasure and inspiration to visitors as it has to us.”
Cecil Beaton at Wilton opens from Friday, April 18 to April 21 and then again from May 3 to September 14.