Cecil Beaton Biography

Photographer, Writer(1904–1980)
Sir Cecil Beaton earned renown as a fashion photographer in the 1920s and '30s before becoming an award-winning costume designer for stage and film productions.

Synopsis

Sir Cecil Beaton was born on January 14, 1904, in London, England. In the 1920s, he was hired as a staff photographer for Vanity Fair and Vogue, where he earned renown for a unique style of posing sitters with unusual backgrounds. Beaton later became an award-winning costume designer for the stage and big screen. He died of a heart attack in England on January 18, 1980.

Early Years

Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton was born on January 14, 1904, in the Hampstead section of London, England. As a child, he adored the picture postcards of society ladies that came with the Sunday newspaper, and he had his two younger sisters pose for photos after receiving his first camera at age 11.

Beaton enrolled at the University of Cambridge's St. John's College in 1922, but he harbored little interest in academics, devoting much of his energy to photography and theater design. After leaving the school in 1925 without a degree, he briefly worked for his father, a timber merchant.

Professional Success

Seeking to pursue his interest in photography, Beaton sent photos to editors and fell in with the Bright Young Things, London's bohemian crowd. He was eventually hired as a staff photographer for Vanity Fair and Vogue, where he developed a unique style of posing sitters with unusual backgrounds. Beaton published his first collection of works in 1930 with The Book of Beauty, and his fame grew to the point where he was tapped to photograph the wedding of the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Warfield in 1937 and Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953.

Beaton recorded the fighting in England, Africa and the Middle East for the British Ministry of Information during World War II, his famous photo of a hospitalized 3-year-old air-raid victim named Eileen Dunne gracing the cover of Life magazine. He resumed shooting portraits of the rich and famous after the war ended, but also spent more time nurturing his passion for costume and set design. Proving highly adept in this field, Beaton won Tony Awards for his costume work for My Fair Lady (1957) and Coco (1970), and nabbed Oscars for Gigi (1958) and the big screen adaptation of My Fair Lady (1964).

Beginning in the 1960s, Beaton released a series of diaries that documented his relationships with royalty and celebrities over previous decades. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1972.

Later Years and Death

In 1974, Beaton suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Although he learned to paint and operate his photography equipment with his left hand, he grew concerned about his future, and arranged for Sotheby's London to sell his life's work later in the decade.

Four days after turning 76, Beaton died of a heart attack on January 18, 1980, at his manor in Broadchalke, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!