Cecil Beaton's Bright Young Things

All that Jazz (Age)

The exhibition will bring to life a deliriously eccentric, glamorous and creative era of British cultural life, combining High Society and the avant-garde, artists and writers, socialites and partygoers, all set against the rhythms of the Jazz Age.

Robin Muir, Curator

During the 1920s and 30s, London’s original high-living young party set were dressing up, dancing and drinking their way through the Jazz Age. And at the centre of this sparkling social circle was timber merchant’s son turned Vogue photographer, Cecil Beaton. This year, a major retrospective will focus on his work documenting one of the most hedonistic periods of British social history.

The exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery spans 150 pieces, including a number of seldom displayed works, tracing Beaton’s journey from the middle classes to high society. They include his original photographs of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s: Stephen Tennant, Anna May Wong, Edwina Mountbatten and Rex Whistler. While artworks by Henry Lamb, Augustus John and other contemporaries and companions paint a picture, quite literally, of Beaton’s profound influence – and influencers.

Beaton’s own bohemian rhapsody

The retrospective will focus on the people who came to define this unique era – capturing all their eccentricity and extravagance, costumes and characters. So, as well as the stars and socialites, there are portraits of lesser-known sitters from Cecil Beaton’s inner circle, such as Princesse de Faucigny-Lucinge (‘Baba’), ballerina Tilly Losch and Dolly Wilde, whose uncle was Oscar. Visitors will also be able to picture the parties that became the backdrop to many of Beaton’s most famous images, such as the Wilsford Manor country ‘house party’ depicted in a playful pastoral scene – a rarely displayed print.

Behind every image, however, is a portrait of a man who brought this ostentatious, and often outrageous, age into focus. One of its most fascinating social ladder climbers, Cecil Beaton’s visionary talents and personal journey are told through the prints, papers, letters and cuttings that form this extraordinary exhibition.

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12 March - 7 June 2020


National Portrait Gallery
St Martin's Place