While I managed to get into see the illuminated manuscripts exhibit - which apparenly is being "marred by crushing crowds" now that it's in it's last week according to twitter (who knew?) - one exhibit I am heartbroken I missed is the collection of Cecil Beaton's portraits of Queen Elizabeth, now on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in honor of this year's big jubilee of 60 years of her reign.
I'm often a sucker for potraits, and even more so for Cecil Beaton in general, who is sometimes better known for his work on the pages of Vanity Fair and Vogue. Although he was a true documentor of the beautiful people of his time, he was also QEII's royal pon rtrait photographer from 1942 until the last sitting she did with him in 1968. We're so used to seeing her pursed lip and reserved in any TV appearance of photograph today, that it's easy to forget that she was not so long ago very young, and apparently pushed all kind of boundaries. According to Mr. Beaton:
In choosing me to take her photographs, the Queen made a daring innovation. It is inconceivable that her predecessor would have summoned me - my work was still considered revolutionary and unconventional.
The exhibit is only open until April 22, after which it will go on tour, but only in the UK and then Commonwealth areas - I think they're making a big mistake not to send it to the US. Some times Brits forget just how enthralled others can be with the monarchy, and of course, there's the draw of Mr. Beaton himself. In any case, I've put in a few photos to give you a preview. The first photo is the first portrait of QEII he took, and also the first portrait to come out after WWII of her, harking back to easier times. I was particularly touched too by the potrait of her, with Charles, by the column. When you fast forward and think of them today and all that has happened between now and then, then I just find it touching to find that once upon a time they were just young mother and mischievious child. Mr. Beaton had this to say about Charles, the "live wire":
Prince Charles was at the stage when he was interested in everything. A live wire, he never flagged in energy, even when those around him were exhausted. One minute he was up on a window-sill giving an unexpected treat to the passers-by below, pulling at the curtain cords; the next he was climbing onto the sofa to take the cigarettes out of a silver box; then he would be absorbed with interest in the working of his mother's snapshot camera.
The last picture is the last portrait he took of QEII and was also unconventional - no regalia on the person, no regalia on the body - just the person, which was pretty revolutionary for a royal potrait for any royal family but in thinking about the context, it was probably perfect for the very revolutionary year of 1968. It's such a striking photograph, it just leaves you wondering why it was the last.
All photographs by Cecil Beaton via Victoria and Albert Museum.