For most of the 20th century, Cecil Beaton photographed the icons of each passing decade. He captured Salvador Dalí and Gertrude Stein in the ‘30s, Picasso in the ‘40s, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor in the ‘50s, Andy Warhol in the ‘60s — even Richard Avedon and Irving Penn were among his subjects. It follows, then, that Beaton Photographs, a new hardback monograph from Abrams, clocks in at a hefty 356 pages, impressively culled from his vast studio archive of 100,000 photos and negatives. It’s the most comprehensive retrospective of his career to date, and begins in suitable grandeur with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth and an introduction by Annie Leibovitz.
A dandy himself, Beaton was a master at staging: He captured his first-ever subjects, his sisters, dressed as duchesses and surrounded by dozens of roses, sequins, and even cellophane. The extravagance of those early sets would serve him well for capturing the theatricality of high society — eventually, he ended up bringing a painted backdrop to Buckingham Palace. His natural-seeming royal portraits, like that of smiling Queen Elizabeth, had façades equally as calculated. They were political — just like the smoldered ruins of cathedrals, museums, and monuments from the Second World War he turned into backdrops for his fashion editorials in the ‘40s.
Click through the slideshow for a glimpse at some of Beaton’s most iconic portraits, including a young Truman Capote in Bangkok, Coco Chanel amidst the encyclopedias and chandeliers of her Parisian homestead, and Mick Jagger dressed down to his plaid skivvies in Morocco.