Cecil Beaton and the Theatre: A new exhibition at Blenheim Palace curated by Zuleika Gallery

Zuleika Gallery is proud to present Cecil Beaton and the Theatre, 12 June – 31 August 2021, the first of a series of new art exhibitions the gallery will present at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. The inaugural exhibition presents original works by celebrated British photographer and designer Cecil Beaton, and his contemporaries, and will coincide with the Cecil Beaton photography exhibition Celebrating Celebrity taking place inside the palace.


Sir Cecil Beaton (1904 – 1980) was a photographer and illustrator known primarily for his stylish portraits of actors and film stars of his time. Beaton’s great love for the theatre inspired the sets he created for his photography and he soon made a step into stage design. Beaton’s theatre designs began to take precedence over his photography practice after the Second World War, when he created numerous costumes and set designs for ballets, opera, plays and film productions. His designs were elegant, romantic and opulent, often set in the Edwardian and pre-war period of his childhood, exemplified by his greatest stage success, ‘My Fair Lady’, in 1956.


Cecil Beaton and The Theatre, presented in a new dedicated exhibition space located inside Blenheim Palace, will centre on a collection of Cecil Beaton’s work relating to theatrical productions of the 1950s. This decade accounted for some his most memorable designs for the stage, including a significant body of work for great figures in the world of ballet such as Frederick Ashton and George Balanchine and includes his iconic work on the play and film of Lerner and Loewe's musical ‘My Fair Lady’. As well as original designs for some of the most celebrated productions Beaton worked on in the 1950s, including ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ and ‘Picnic at Tintagel’, is work by other key figures and contemporaries from around the same time, amongst them John Piper (1903 – 1992), Ethelbert White (1891 – 1972), John Armstrong (1893 – 1973) Glynn Boyd Harte, (1948 – 2003), Christian Berard (1902 – 1949) and Dimitri Bouchene (1893 – 1993).


Beaton is also placed within his wider context, working as a leading artist during some of the most pioneering and innovative decades in the history of British design. The exhibition includes one of Beaton’s earliest set designs from the Duchess of Malfi, created in 1924, and also examines the extraordinary influence of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes following their arrival in Britain in around 1920. Impressions of these ballets from the time by Ethelbert White and Michel Sevier are complimented by tributes to the company’s great star, Vaslav Nijinsky, in album cover designs by Glyn Boyd Harte from the other end of the century.


Work by Beaton’s contemporaries will include watercolours of sets and costumes by John Armstrong for the director Alexander Korda and a collection of designs by his friend John Piper. Piper was one of the first of his contemporaries to praise Beaton's remarkable work on a ballet based on Benjamin Britten's song cycle “Les Illuminations”. Alongside two designs by Beaton for this production is a spectacular set design by Piper for Britten's last opera, “Death in Venice” and a collage backdrop design for the composer’s only ballet “The Prince of the Pagodas”. A very special addition to the exhibition is an original portrait of Cecil Beaton by fellow artist Augustus John, which has been lent by a private collection, as well as a rare portrait by Beaton of Mrs Wallis Simpson lent by a private collection, and a portrait of Gladys Deacon, Duchess of Marlborough, by Beaton, from the Blenheim Palace collection.


Cecil Beaton and The Theatre is curated by Zuleika Gallery for Blenheim Palace, in association with Harry Moore Gwyn. Zuleika Gallery is pleased to also collaborate with Joanna Ling, ceramicist and former Head of the Cecil Beaton Archive at Sotheby’s.


Enter the Viewing Room


This exhibition coincides with an exhibition of Beaton's photography also on show at Blenheim Palace: Cecil Beaton Celebrating Celebrity, 17 May - 4 July Read more.

Cecil Beaton and the Theatre 12 June - 31 August is located inside the palace in a dedicated exhibition space next to the State Rooms. A Blenheim Palace ticket is required to view this exhibition, or free for Annual Pass holders, for more information visit the website.