Wednesday, December 14

Cecil Beaton: The New York Years

Cecil Beaton (left) pictured with Truman Capote

Throughout his career, Cecil Beaton did it all. He photographed for Vogue and Life, drew apparel illustrations, designed costumes for My Fair Lady and Gigi, built theatrical sets for Tenderloin and Coco, and mingled with glamorous celebrities including Katherine Hepburn and Elsie de Wolfe. At the same time, the British taste-maker made an impact in the art, design, fashion, film, photography, and even the celebrity worlds. Beaton story was rarely spoken of, but the Museum of the City of New York finally broke that silence.

Entitled Cecil Beaton: The New York Years, the exhibition walks us through Beaton's 40 years in New York City. Beginning with a quick overview by Donald Albrecht, MCNY's curator of architecture and design and then leads to a series of illustrations. Varying from charcoal, gouache, ink, and watercolor, the illustrations of models and celebrities including Katherine Hepburn and Greta Garbo reveal Beaton's interest in high society.

"Beaton has a snobbish obsession with class and status," Albrecht said to the New York Times.

But Beaton's glossy photographs are probably better referred to as he had a tendency to only capture images of the rich and famous including Salvador and Gala Dali and Marilyn Monroe, with many of them gracing the covers and pages of Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Life. Yet, possibly the most well-known image Beaton captured had nothing to do with fashion or high society.

In a glass case near the back of the gallery, a vintage issue of Life displays an image of a young girl with her head bandaged, clutching her teddy bear as she recovers in a hospital. During World War II, Beaton was given the task of recording images from the home front and the image of Eileen Dunne landed him the title of prominent photographer.

But, the Big Apple continued to offer Beaton more opportunities. He decided to dive into the design world, creating costumes and sets for Broadway shows including Lady Windermere's Fan and My Fair Lady. Colored sketches are pinned against the wall behind a set of dresses including a red silk costume worn by Charles Anthony as Pong in the 1961 opera, Turandot.

Ending with even more photographs including Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, and Mick Jagger, Cecil Beaton: The New York Years may seem to show how obsessed Beaton was with glamour, but Beaton himself was glamorous.

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