Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) 

Henry Lamb (1883-1960)

Portrait of Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980), Henry Lamb
Oil and Canvas
20th Century
91.4 x 68.6 cm (36 x 27 in)
Private Collection, U.S.A.
Royal Academy Illustated, London, 1953, p.59 Exhibition Catalogue; ‘Henry Lamb’, Manchester City Art Galleries, 1984, p.9.
The Leicester Galleries, London: ‘Recent Paintings by Henry Lamb’, November, 1935, no.28. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, ‘Sixty-Third Autumn Exhibition, 1937. The Royal Academy, London, 1953, no.182 The Leicester Galleries, London: ‘Memorial Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Henry Lamb, R.A’, December, 1961, no.53.
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Cecil Beaton is a name synonymous with the development of photography, fashion and art in twentieth-century England, and through this multi-faceted talent base played the role of protagonist, antagonist and archivist of an era on the brink of social and political change.

Beaton was born in Hampstead, his father being a successful timber merchant, and first came into contact with photography after using his grandma’s Kodak A3 camera and his family as models. After leaving Cambridge with no degree and failing miserably as an office worker in a family-friend’s business, Beaton focused all his attention on photography. Although his technique of portraiture photography was nothing particularly unheard of, his compositional ideas, which frequently included home-made props and painted theatrical backgrounds, caught the attention of an emerging group of young, wealthy patrons coined by the press as ‘The Bright Young Things’. This group, comprising of aspiring socialites and aristocrats including the Sitwell siblings and Stephen Tennent, immediately found familiarity in Beaton’s reactive approach to photography, and for a time he documented their bohemian lifestyles of lavish parties, heavy drinking and fast-pace games including treasure hunts through central London. With the support of Osbert Sitwell, Beaton staged his first one-man show at the Cooling Gallery in 1927 and again in 1930 by which point his reputation was such that of the leading lights whom he held in such high regard only Queen Mary and, surprisingly, Virginia Woolf had declined to sit for him.

The outbreak of the Second World War allowed Beaton, who was appointed a war photographer, to produce some of his most inspiring works, including his iconic portraits of Queen Elizabeth II enthroned and Sir Winston Churchill at his desk at No.10 Downing Street.

Following the War Beaton drew his attentions to the theatrical arts, designing stage sets and costumes for a number of prominent productions including The School for Scandal (1949) and My Fair Lady in 1956 - later working on the film adaptation in Hollywood too. His work as director of arts and costume designer earned Beaton two Oscars and naturally led to interests in fashion; in 1954 publishing The Glass of Fashion, a survey of fifty years of changing styles in dress, and later in 1971 orchestrating the V&A’s first ever exhibition of fashion titled: Fashion: An Anthology by Cecil Beaton.

Henry Lamb was a founding member of the Camden Town Group of painters and although experiencing great successes in the landscape genre, his most penetrating works are undoubtedly his portraits painted between and during the First and Second World Wars.

Born in Adelaide, Lamb was encouraged to enter the medical profession, although discarding the idea c.1904 to instead become an artist. With the outbreak of the First World War Lamb returned to medicine and qualified before being appointed a medical officer as well as an official war artist. Lamb’s established talent as a portraitist by this point can be seen in his portrait of Giles Lytton Strachey painted just prior to the outbreak of the war in 1914 in which the critic is seen casually slumped in a low chair and seemingly overwhelmed by the landscape beyond his window.

Between the Wars Lamb lived at Coombe Bisset, Wiltshire and played host to a number of the younger generation of writers, artists and intellectuals including Benjamin Britten, Evelyn Waugh and of course Cecil Beaton, which is where the present work was probably painted. In his portraits from this period Lamb’s style became looser and more rapid in application although maintaining a highly attentive approach to characterisation; one of his most celebrated portraits being that of the writer Evelyn Waugh, who is seen seated holding a pint of beer in his lap and a pipe to his mouth.

During the Second World War Lamb was again appointed official war artist and with his experience of portrait painting gained throughout the previous decades, painted a number of honest and quite contemplative portraits of military personnel; a personal favourite being his Despatch Rider of 1941 [Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum].
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