Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things exhibition National Portrait Gallery

Cecil Beaton by Paul Tanqueray © National Portrait Gallery London

Visit Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things at the National Portrait Gallery

Today the Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things exhibition opens at the National Portrait Gallery (to 7 Jun 2020). Nupur Trivedi previews this celebration of the famous English portraitist.

Glitz, glamour, decadence – and probably a touch of debauchery! This was all part and parcel of belonging to a certain set of London socialites in the 1920s and ’30s, called the Bright Young Things. The group embodied the opulence of the Golden Age: imagine a British version of Jay Gatsby and his friends. Its elite members included writers, artists, poets, designers and aristocrats who all indulged in the excesses of the interwar years.

Talented photographer

Among their ranks was portrait photographer Cecil Beaton, who not only participated in the group’s antics, but also captured them with a keen eye.

A century on from the start of Beaton’s long and prolific career, the National Portrait Gallery is celebrating with a major new exhibition: Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things. Featuring around 150 works, many of which rarely go on display, the exhibition gives us a first-hand account of a world we only ever really experience through novels or films.

Beaton’s portraits are styled to perfection and you can clearly see why he went on to become a Vogue photographer. In his ethereal portrait of the actress Anna May Wong clutching a bouquet of flowers, it looks as though she’s radiating light while being showered with more flowers.

What to expect

One of my personal favourite pieces in this exhibition is Beaton’s portrait of theatre director George ‘Dadie’ Rylands, as the Duchess of Malfi. Other notable portraits on show include one of socialite Stephen Tennant, who was called ‘the brightest’ of the Bright Young Things. You’ll also see the set and costume designer Oliver Messel and modernist poets Iris Tree and Nancy Cunard. Shots of Beaton also appear, both through self-portraits and in photographs taken by others.

Letters, magazines, invitations, scrapbooks and other ephemera offer more fascinating insights into the Bright Young Things, who were an intriguing mix of high society and the avant-garde.

Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things is open 12 Mar to 7 Jun 2020
Adult £18; under-12 free; under-25 Fri £5; over-60 Mon-Wed 10am-11am £5
National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, WC2H 0HE
020 7306 0055

Did you know that Tutankhamun is currently at the Saatchi Galley in Chelsea? Catch Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh before 3 May 2020

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