- Cecil Beaton, Photobiography Odhams Press 1951Our PickBeaton's biography up to 1950, he discusses both his career and life
- Cecil Beaton, Hugo Vickers The Glass of Fashion A personal history of fifty years and changing tastes of the people who have inspired them Rizzoli ex Libris, 2014Cecil Beaton's perspectives on fashion over the years
- Cecil Beaton Cecil Beaton's diaries books 1-6 Sapere books, 2018Cecil Beaton's personal diaries, which include insights into his life, career and his interactions with others
- Josephine Ross, Beaton in Vogue Thames and Hudson 2012An overview of Beaton's career at Vogue
- C Spencer, Cecil Beaton Stage and Film designs John Wiley and Sons 1995Focusses on Beaton's work as a designer
- Hugo Vickers, Cecil Beaton: The Authorized Biography Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2002Our PickVery in-depth biography spanning from Beaton's birth to his death, insights into his character, relationships and every aspect of his career
- Suzanne Warner , My Fair Lady Souvenir book: Theatre Royal Drury Lane Purnell and Sons 1958Our PickA documentation of Beaton's time on set for My Fair Lady, provides insights into how he worked on set and his friendship with Audrey Hepburn
Important Art by Cecil Beaton
Beaton had a penchant for the theatrical and this can be seen in this photograph of his sister Nancy who models her fancy dress costume for the Galaxy Ball at London's Park Lane Hotel. The dramatic backlighting focuses attention on her face and torso, whilst the sheer, jagged backdrop, alluding to the rocky surface of a star, merges with the skirt of her costume making her part of the star itself. The use of cellophane in the backdrop produces intricate patterns of reflection, allowing her to also embody the luminosity of a star. In his early portraits, Beaton often utilized this technique of wrapping his sitters in beautiful or interesting backdrops and this enabled Beaton to distance them from their real selves and immerse them completely in the photographic world that he had created. Here, Beaton's depiction of a character is so convincing that, without context, Nancy Beaton does not simply adopt a fantasy role, she actually becomes the fantasy character.
In 1934, Beaton was commissioned by Vogue to shoot an image of this hat by Suzy. Beaton fulfilled the request in his trademark style with an image that exudes playfulness. The hat box is positioned centrally within the photograph and out of it emerges a model's disembodied head wearing the hat. By including an incomplete portion of a woman's body Beaton references one of the tropes of the Surrealist Movement and, in doing so, makes his photograph visually distinct from the average fashion image. This differentiation is enhanced by the model's unusually sad expression. In the work, Beaton utilizes the documentary realism of the photographic medium to normalize the inclusion of the surreal elements, creating a new and convincing reality.
In 2009, the image was chosen by Rankin, the British portrait and fashion photographer, as one of seven photographs that changed fashion photography. Rankin stated that Beaton helped "to set the template for fashion photography. Packaging a world of decadent beauty and above all selling a dream" and that he brought to this photograph "his typical wit and elegance so that what she is wearing is secondary to the beauty of the image."
Here, Beaton depicts Marlene Dietrich in a manner which was in direct contrast to the masculine clothing and androgynous style for which she was known. The delicate lace backdrop, flowers, and Dietrich's feather boa, can all be seen as sensual symbols of traditional femininity. Dietrich's exaggerated body language and the use of theatrical props, jewellery and clothing also make reference to her role as a performer. Mirrors and reflections were a reoccurring theme in Beaton's work and here he plays with the idea, placing Dietrich's face alongside that of a mannequin with a similar hairstyle and eyebrows. The comparison between the two highlights Dietrich's famously pale complexion as well as creating a sense of displacement in the viewer, as unlike a reflection, the two faces look in different directions.
The overall combination of unusual set pieces along with the use of soft focus give a dreamlike effect to the image and this depiction, at once both real and fantastical, corresponds with Beaton's description of Dietrich in his memoir Persona Grata, "From the flat screen Dietrich stormed the senses, looking always tangible, and at the same time untouchable". The combination of beauty and Surrealism showcased in the work can be compared to some of the photographs produced by Man Ray, particularly those depicting Kiki de Montparnasse.