There’s an immediate ‘click’ when you share a passion, in this instance Cecil Beaton. Talking to Andrew Ginger who conceived and put together the exhibition Beaton at Home was fascinating, 10 minutes swiftly became an hour…because there’s so much to explore, as Andrew says of Cecil: He’s superficial to such a degree of depth he brings meaning to it – he makes the flimsy intriguing.
I was thrilled to hear Beaton at Home is coming to London, Sibyl Colefax and John Fowler, 39 Brook St to be precise, hence the Beaton at Brook Street title, it’s very Beaton and he will feel most at home in their iconic ‘yellow room’. The exhibition took place in Salisbury over the summer, the centrepiece being his infamous ‘circus bed’, Cecil had it made for Ashcombe by ‘Savages’ (what a GREAT name) – a Victorian carousel specialist:
The bed has long since disappeared and like Ashcombe the frivolity and gaiety with which it was created and publicised has been fading in our imaginations alongside the black and white images left to us. Well Andrew has changed that, the circus bed has been recreated by his specialist bed company Beaudesert: hand carved in lime wood, freshly gilded and lavishly technicolour.
It feels like Cecil is there still, propped against the table, listening intently to the amazed reactions the exhibit produces amongst the public today, echoing the intense reactions people had to Cecil throughout his life. Cecil was extreme in both personality, talent and ambition: remember that Cecil quote?
Cecil had an undeniable power to bring fantasies to life, he was a ‘doer’, lavishing money, time and style to breathe enchanted dreams into existence, he lived in ‘real fantasy’ blending artifice and beauty spectacularly. We need Cecils, the world is full of ‘textbook good taste’ but very few ‘extraordinary’ aesthetes who broke the rules creating spaces, visual images, styles that are still emulated, analysed and debated almost 100 years later.
The exhibition focuses on Cecil at home, to most of us this is a private space, but like most things ‘Cecil’ – it’s more complicated – he was simultaneously ambitious and romantic about his homes. They were theatrical sets for a self-publicist that this insta-logger-witter world would appreciate, but also a cherished creative refuge where he was happiest alone.
He was heartbroken leaving Ashcombe after the war, where he conjured a cohesive decorator’s delight out of youthful fantasies and creative ambitions, but how would it have evolved if he’d been allowed to stay into his old age?
Would it have become a grand statement? Well furnished with high quality collectors piece, Reddish was the perfect backdrop for Cecil the establishment photographer, the ‘taste-maker’ aesthete at home.
Reddish also offered privacy and room for reflection, the theatrical glamour here is grounded in the 18th century’s finest rather than Rococo frivolity. But Cecil has the magic wand that spells out STYLE wherever he casts his spell.
Wherever he was and however ‘accepted’ he became Cecil was a man apart, Truman Capote wrote: A camera will never be invented that could capture and encompass all that he actually sees.
Cecil looking out the door at Reddish
What inspired Andrew? There was Hugo Vicker’s biography in 1985 and after this a client who collected Beaton and then a move to deepest Wiltshire, a place some call Beaton-Land. Here old friends reminisce, stories abound and the Cecil legend lives on, untarnished by those ‘unexpurgated diaries’: staff with fond memories, neighbours who enjoyed his legendary hospitality and great company. A picture emerges of a complicated persona, with sharp edges but kind, candid and generous. Hugo Vicker’s new book will be launched at the exhibition, Cecil Beaton: Portraits & Profiles, combining his (often flattering) visual portraits with his incisive (possibly less flattering) pen portraits from his diaries, the accompanying Lecture ‘Malice in Wonderland’ has my name on it.In a Decorative Affair’s world there is no better way to Celebrate Cecil than through his cherished homes, take me there….
photos credits and exhibition information:
The ‘Beaton at Brook St‘ exhibition runs from November 18th to December 5th 2014 in London celebrating ‘Cecil’ one of Britain’s creative geniuses and a 20th century legend. The show will be hosted in the famous yellow drawing room with a series of evening events: lectures and a screening. The exhibition will also launch Cecil Beaton: Portraits & Profiles by Hugo Vickers, Beaton’s official biographer, whose biography first roused Andrew Ginger’s interest. www.sibylcolefax.com
The Salisbury ‘Beaton at Home’ exhibition, which like ‘The Beaton at Brook St’ exhibition is grateful to Sotheby’s who have supplied all photographic images and without whose support the exhibition would not be possible.
Beatonesque (a look at Beaton’s creative genius and legacy)
Beaton’s Paradise Lost (Ashcombe House)
This post relies heavily on Andrew’s copious knowledge of his subject and astute insight.