Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things come to Bonhams

Art Daily
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Cecil Beaton (British, 1904-1980), The French Sisters. Estimate: £1,000-1,500. Photo: Bonhams.
Cecil Beaton (British, 1904-1980), The French Sisters. Estimate: £1,000-1,500. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- A selection of 22 illustrations by Cecil Beaton for The Book of Beauty are amongst the highlights of Bonhams Modern British and Irish Art ‘behind-closed-doors’ sale at 1pm on 12 May in Knightsbridge. Sold as individual lots, the works range in estimate from £300-500 to £1,200-1,800.

One of the most important and revered photographers of the 20th century, Cecil Beaton became associated with the glamour of the young members of high society in the 1920s, his images capturing a sense of youthful abandon and conscious self-fashioning in the aftermath of the First World War. His work would go on to define the era of the Bright Young Things – the name given to the crowd of young, intelligent and beautiful people Beaton called friends, which included the likes of poet Stephen Tennant, the Jungman sisters and an array of eccentric debutantes.

Bonhams Specialist in Modern British and Irish Art and Head of the sale, Janet Hardie, commented: “Cecil Beaton’s The Book of Beauty captured the Zeitgeist. Published in 1930, it encapsulates the glamour, fun and freedom of the Roaring Twenties. These sketches show Beaton’s array of talents as well as his adoration for the women he depicts. With the National Portrait Gallery having recently honored Beaton’s work with a major exhibition, this collection of illustrations provides a timely and unique opportunity to acquire a part of the glamorous era Beaton defined.”

The Book of Beauty was Beaton’s first publication and contained a mixture of photographs, drawings and witty descriptions of many of the most beautiful women of the day. The work reflected the changing ideals of beauty and the increasing independence that women were beginning to enjoy. Having spent his youth idolizing the women he saw in popular magazines, the book was a developed realization of his boyhood scrapbooks.

Amongst those immortalized in the work were the French Sisters, whom Beaton described in his accompanying description as “Sugar and spice and all that’s nice”. His sketch of the pair has an estimate of £1,000-1,500. Writing that ‘good looks do not signify unless backed up by intelligence’, Beaton’s work featured women who were known as much for their talents as their beauty. The collection of sketches offered at Bonhams includes Beaton’s likeness of Kathleen, Countess of Drogheda, who was an avid sportswoman and one of the first female aviators, known as the ‘Flying Countess’ (estimate: £800-1,200), Daisy Fellowes, an influential magazine editor (estimate: £1,200-1,800), and two depictions of Lina Cavalieri, a talented opera singer and the muse for Piero Fornasetti’s famous ‘Themes and Variations’ series (each with an estimate of £400-600).

The sale will be a live ‘behind-closed-doors’ auction. An auctioneer will be present on the rostrum, and bids will be accepted in the following formats: online, on the phone, or by leaving an absentee bid. All bidding will be done remotely in accordance with the latest government guidelines.

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