Bright Young Things

Posted by: Richard Abbey
Bright Young Things supporting image

Cecil Beaton, Oliver Messel in his costume for Paris in Helen, 1932. The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive / Cecil Beaton, Paula Gellibrand, Marquesa de Casa Maury,1928. The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive

Cecil Beaton’s glittering portraits from a golden age are brought together at the Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery this spring in a major new exhibition direct from the National Portrait Gallery, London.


Running from mid-May until 4 July, Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things explores the extravagant world of the glamorous and stylish ‘Bright Young Things’ of the twenties and thirties through the lens of the renowned British photographer.



Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things presents a dazzling leading cast of society figures, artists, writers and partygoers, each seen through the prism of Beaton’s portraits.Featuring 150 works, many of which are seldom exhibited, the images on display offer a joyous, playful spectacle of costumed theatricality and unbridled creativity. The exhibition in Sheffield, which comes after the pandemic sadly brought the original run in London to a close after just one week, is a rare opportunity to see these remarkable portraits together on such a scale.

Beaton’s celebrated sitters, to many of whom he would become close, would help refine his  photographic style throughout these early years – actors and anglophiles Tallulah Bankhead and Anna May Wong, writer Daphne du Maurier, glamorous socialites Edwina Mountbatten and Diana Guinness (née Mitford), artist and friend Stephen Tennant, set and costume designer Oliver Messel, composer William Walton, modernist poets Iris Tree and Nancy Cunard, among many others. Brought to vivid life, each portrait has a remarkable story to tell.

While some of the faces on display may be less well known, their stories are no less fascinating – those of style icons Paula Gellibrand, the Marquesa de Casa Maury and Baba, Princesse de Faucigny-Lucinge, the eccentric composer and aesthete Lord Berners, modernist poet Brian Howard, who was in part the inspiration for Brideshead Revisited’s Anthony Blanche, ballet dancer Tilly Losch and Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s equally flamboyant niece.


Also featured are portraits of an older generation, one which gave Beaton’s career early impetus: outspoken poet and critic Edith Sitwell, the famously witty social figure Lady Diana Cooper, artist and Irish patriot Hazel, Lady Lavery, and the extraordinary, bejewelled Lady Alexander, whose husband produced Oscar Wilde’s comedies and one of Beaton’s early patrons.


To avoid disappointment, visitors are encouraged to pre-book their free visit to the gallery. Pre-booking and reduced numbers are part of a range comprehensive safety measure in place, which also include enhanced cleaning, hand sanitiser stations and changes to the building’s air handling system to continuously bring in fresh air. Visitors can plan and book their visit online here.

Homepage image: Cecil Beaton, The Bright Young Things at Wilsford, 1927. The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive


Thumbnail image: Paul Tanqueray, Cecil Beaton, 1937. National Portrait Gallery, London. © Estate of Paul Tanqueray


Extra image: Cecil Beaton, The Silver Soap Suds, 1930. The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive / Cecil Beaton, Nancy and Baba Beaton reflected in piano lid, 1936. The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive




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