Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration at the V&A

Today marks the 60th anniversary of The Queen’s accession to the throne. There are celebrations taking place throughout the city, including a gun salute from the Tower of London at lunchtime.

This morning, the V&A gave me a sneak preview of the special exhibition they’re running to mark The Queen’s 60 years on the throne. Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton is an exhibition of the best photographs from the V&A’s collection of royal photography. Opening on Wednesday, the show presents The Queen across the years, examining the portrayals of her as a princess, a monarch and a mother.

It’s an intimate show, staged in five small sections on the ground floor of the V&A. The intimacy of the space reflects the incredible relationship between the photographer and his subject: Beaton took photos of the royal family for more than 60 years, capturing The Queen in her teens in the 1940s right through to his final portrait of her in 1968. He was the photographer chosen to take the first pictures of Prince Charles when he was born; Beaton went on to commemorate the birth of each of Elizabeth’s children. He was also present at the Coronation and produced the famous official portrait photographs in the Green Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace.

The striking thing about the V&A’s new show is the sense you get of a family passing through time. Early shots of Prince Philip look just like William today; baby photos of Prince Charles look rather like any other baby photo from the late 1940s. And in one striking photo of The Queen with Charles and the baby Anne, Beaton has captured the happy smiles of what could be any young mum excited about the arrival of her second child. It’s fascinating to see such familiar faces lit up with emotion for Beaton’s camera.

Alongside the photographs are diary extracts, letters and other artefacts revealing even more about the unique relationship Beaton had with the Royal Family. I’d recommend getting the audio guide to hear even more about the show. A charming video in the section on Beaton at the end shows the photographer chatting with David Hockney and other friends and contemporaries. He seems to be a thoroughly charming man: witty and elegant.

There’ll be plenty more ways to examine The Queen’s legacy this year (a BBC series The Diamond Queen starts tonight), but for one that intimately captures a young princess becoming a mother, then a monarch, then a mature woman, this is surely one of the best.

Visit the Diamond Jubilee section on our main site for all the special events taking place this year.

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