Cecil Beaton on... Barbra Streisand

By Sotheby's
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 famous images from the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, which is located at Sotheby’s in London, and uncover the stories behind the photographs.

Beaton first saw Barbra Streisand singing in a nightclub in New York in the summer of 1963. It was early in her career but he was captivated by her talent and unique look - “this strange Cleopatra-like profile with bold flow from forehead to nose”. That October he photographed her for the first time and in 1969 he would go on to design her costumes for the film On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.

Although he was initially sceptical of working with her, he was pleasantly surprised: “Her publicity is so bad that I feared she might be the tyrant, the virago, the bitch that she is said to be. Instead she was particularly ingratiating and amenable. From the moment she appeared, late, at the rehearsal, it was evident she has star quality, is a natural. She is above all else intelligent. Her brain works so clearly, so healthily. She could be a lawyer”.

Born in Brooklyn in 1942, Streisand would go on to become one the world’s biggest stars. An actress, singer, songwriter, author, film producer and director, she is best known on film for her roles in Funny Girl, Hello Dolly! And A Star is Born. With 145 million albums sold worldwide, she is also part of an elite group of people who have won an “EGOT” – an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award.

Although Beaton was known for his sometimes damning assessments of some of the world’s most famous people, Streisand escaped his cutting remarks as he genuinely liked her: “I admire her. She cannot be made to say she likes something unless she is one hundred per cent sold. Here’s hoping that we continue to get along together as well so far, for we have argued, we have disagreed, we have said our pieces, but we give and take as professionals with a job on hand. I treat her as an equal, and only now and again do I realise that I am sparring on equal terms with someone who is fifty years younger than I am!”

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.

Discover more about the world of Cecil Beaton

Cecil Beaton Portraits & Profiles is published by Frances Lincoln Limited and available to buy now

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