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Daphne du Maurier

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Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things

A major exhibition entitled Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things was to have taken place at the National Portrait Gallery from 12th March – 7th June 2020.  Sadly, in order to contain the spread of coronavirus, the National Portrait Gallery, along with all other similar institutions, had to close in the third week of March, just as the exhibition was getting underway.  Fortunately, the National Portrait Gallery Publications have produced a most beautiful book of the exhibition, which is available and certainly worth reading.

The book (and the exhibition) explores the extravagant world of the stylish and glamourous ‘bright young things’ of the 1920s and 1930s, see through the lens of the renowned British photographer Cecil Beaton.  Beaton was just three years older than Daphne.  A middle-class suburban school-boy who used his skill behind the camera to transform himself into a glittering society figure, and a star photographer at Vogue Magazine, who befriended many of the artists, writers, socialites and partygoers that he photographed. 

It should not be forgotten that he also became a leading war photographer, best known for his images of the damage done by the German Blitz in World War II.

The book includes many celebrated names including Edith and Osbert Sitwell, Lady Diana Cooper, Rex Whistler, Gertrude Lawrence, Lady Edwina Mountbatten, Tallulah Bankhead, Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Cunard and most especially Daphne du Maurier.  The photograph of Daphne is a picture which is familiar to us, taken in 1926 when she was 19 years old.  It is an utterly beautiful photograph – she posed with shoulders bared, her head on its long graceful neck turned to one side, her eyes, often described as ‘startling’ and ‘piercingly blue’, ranged the middle distance.

The write up is fascinating and provides us with information not usually included in Daphne’s biographies.  In Beaton’s diary of 1926, he comments of Daphne that {she} writes very cleverly… The Beatons and the du Mauriers were friends, both families living in Hampstead and sharing a social life, which included Angela and Daphne attending parties at the Beaton’s house.  When the Beaton family moved to Sussex Gardens the du Maurier family and particularly Angela and Daphne often visited Cecil’s studio there, posing for photographs and sharing happy times with Cecil and his sisters.

I cannot recommend this book too highly, and let us hope that we eventually have an opportunity to see the exhibition.

Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things was published by National Portrait Gallery Publications on 12th March 2020, ISBN 9781855147720, Price £35.00.

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