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Cecil Beaton

Designer

Biography

English photographer and designer Cecil Beaton (1904–80) made his Royal Ballet debut in 1936 designing Frederick Ashton’s Apparitions for the then Vic-Wells Ballet. He returned to design Ashton’s Les Sirènes and Marguerite and Armand for The Royal Ballet and Turandot for The Royal Opera (originally produced by the Metropolitan Opera, New York). Beaton’s other collaborations with Ashton included Illuminations and Picnic at Tintagel for New York City Ballet and The Nutcracker for Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet (later Birmingham Royal Ballet).

Beaton was born in London. From 1925 he quickly rose to prominence as a photographer for his glamorous, innovative portraits. By 1930 he was working for Vogue as photographer, caricaturist and illustrator, had staged one-man exhibitions and published his first book, The Book of Beauty. In the 1930s he began working in ballet and opera while continuing to photograph in London, New York and Hollywood. After photographing the wedding of Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor in 1937 he regularly photographed the royal family throughout his career. Arguably his most important contribution came during World War II, where he worked as a photographer for the Ministry of Information around the UK and across the world.

Beaton’s principal work as a designer for stage and film followed the end of World War II, with major credits including Alexander Korda’s An Ideal Husband and Anna Karenina, La traviata for the Metropolitan Opera and My Fair Lady on stage and screen, winning three Oscars in all. He was awarded a Légion d’Honneur in 1950, made a CBE in 1957 and knighted in 1972.

News and features

New look: the living history of <em>Marguerite and Armand</em>’s designs

New look: the living history of Marguerite and Armand’s designs

7 June 2017

Dresses worn by Margot Fonteyn and Sylvie Guillem reveal how every element of a ballet is carefully re-assessed for each revival.

How Fonteyn and Nureyev's electric partnership turned <em>Marguerite and Armand</em> into a ballet icon

How Fonteyn and Nureyev's electric partnership turned Marguerite and Armand into a ballet icon

24 May 2017

The pair's unique chemistry elevated Ashton's ballet to the point it became sacred to other dancers – only recently has that begun to change.

ROH Collections Items of the Month: Highlights from the Costume Collection

ROH Collections Items of the Month: Highlights from the Costume Collection

28 October 2015

We've picked two of our favourite opera items from the collection's 6,200 artefacts — shoes worn by Adelina Patti and Cecil Beaton’s iconic Turandot dress.

Photos