Cecil Beaton was one of the most celebrated photographers of the 20th century and his iconic images captured everyone from Hollywood greats such as Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly to art world legends including Picasso and Francis Bacon. In a new series adapted from Hugo Vickers’ book Cecil Beaton Portraits & Profiles, we take a look at images from the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, which is located at Sotheby’s in London, and uncover the stories behind the famous image.
Beaton adored Audrey Hepburn, and said of her in 1957: “Intelligent and alert, wistful but enthusiastic, frank yet tactful, assured without conceit and tender without sentimentality, Audrey Hepburn is the most refreshing theatrical talent to appear since the war. Add to this the remarkable distinction which she emanates, and it is no rash judgement to say she is one of the most interesting public embodiments of our new feminine ideal.”
He summed up her international appeal as: “It took the rubble of Belgium, an English accent and an American success to launch the striking personality that best exemplified our post-war Zeitgeist.”
Beaton dressed the actress for her starring role in the 1964 film My Fair Lady and also spent two days photographing her, taking 350 exposures. Several original film posters for a number of Hepburn's films, including My Fair Lady, are included in Sotheby's Original Film Posters Online auction, which is open for bidding from 28 August until 5 September.
Before My Fair Lady, Beaton had previously described her look as showing “character rather than prettiness” and was also impressed by her gracefulness: “No doubt she owes a large debt to ballet for her bearing and abandon of movement, which suggest a personal quality, an angular kinship with cranes and storks.”
Hepburn herself described owning a Cecil Beaton photograph as “like owning a beautiful painting” and was effusive about the experience of posing for him: “Like every woman and every young child I said I would have loved to be beautiful and for a moment I was. If somebody loves you very much then they make you feel beautiful and he did it with his tenderness, but also with his art. Between the clothes and the photographs I looked smashing.”
The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, consisting of over 100,000 negatives and 9,000 vintage prints, is located at Sotheby’s in London and managed by Art Agency Partners. Click here for more information on licensing images and buying prints.
Cecil Beaton Portraits & Profiles is published by Frances Lincoln Limited and available to buy now