09 August 2009

...down the Beaton path - Beverley Nichols & Cecil Beaton

photograph of Cecil Beaton's great friend and artist Rex Whistler
by Cecil Beaton

(read more about Rex Whistler here)


...continuing FLEUR COWLES FLOWER GAME with detours along the way

Robert Mapplethorpe (here)

Gwili Andre by Cecil Beaton
from Chris Beetles (here)

I can not imagine the sparks that flew when the young aesthete Cecil Beaton met the older aesthete Beverley Nichols. It seems Nichols was trying to coax the 24 year old innocent into an affair. Nichols boasted of bedding a number of famous fellows, dropping Names in hopes of impressing Beaton. In the biography- Beverley Nichols A Life by Bryan Connon, Nichols recalls Beaton as being "startled".
( I bet.)

Artists Gilbert and George

by Cecil Beaton

Cecil Beaton photographs from CHRIS BEETLES (here)

By 1928, Nichols was a best selling author and had audaciously written an autobiography Twenty-Five, he boasted one should have accomplished enough to write such a book at the age of 25. Cecil Beaton was well on his way to his own fame- and ultimately one could say-'outfamed' Nichols.

Nichols by Beaton

In 1929, Nichols wrote Beaton that he must go to New York to be a big success and promised him a commission of 10 photographs for the American Sketch- a new publication where Nichols was to be editor. Nichols had been set up in New York with the job and brought "little pieces of England" to the city- ultimately selling his French furniture in exchange for sturdy "English" Victorian mahogany. Nichols' sophisticated manservant Gaskin was imported as well to oversee it all.


photograph courtesy of Timber Press

by CB

from Chris Beetles (here)

Beaton did take on the city, but the commission BN promised never came through. I can't help but wonder- was it the Sketch publishers who vetoed the Beaton commission or was it Beverley's own snub? Perhaps- a would be lover scorned- at what might have been Beaton's demure to Nichols overtures. I'll never know- neither to my knowledge recorded the reasons. Beaton was in New York and of course angry about the whole thing.

A Happy Ending though: It turns out Beaton didn't need Beverley's help and ultimately landed in what was to be- his own- always -sweet pot of jam.

I can't leave these two erudite aesthetes without knowing they patched things up and fortunately the truth of the tale is that they did. They exchanged genuinely affectionate letters as they got older, admiring each others work and lamenting the onset of old age.


The photograph of Beverley done much in the style of Beaton and likely is one of his portraits- no doubt there was a bit of provocative chatter at the sitting.

Beaton, Gladys Cooper, Nichols

Excerpts from the FLOWER GAME

Beaton's Japanese Paper Blossoms

Nichols- not known for brevity exclaimed:

"What a lovely idea!... With the exception of the bougainvillaea, it is firmly British. The only thing that may make it unusual is that I do NOT put roses first. I think that the average garden is greatly 'over rosed'. The whole Idea, of course, is only a dream because one couldn't grow snowdrops and bougainvillaea together. Or Perhaps YOU could!

Nichols with his garden Lilies

... In order of priority is as follows:
Lilium regale, bougainvillea (common magenta variety); Double purple Lilac (Souvenir de Louis Spaeth); Camellia (Donation); Rose (Fragrant Cloud); Snowdrops in clumps (Galanthus ebrosessii); Agapanthus; English Primroses in clumps; and English Blue Bells, philadelphus ( Belle Etoile).

Beaton's scattered Roses fabric creation

Beaton- in less flowery language said:

" Any large white Orchid of any variety, so long as it is white. (I have grown some and they are a great delight!) ; white Paeony, dark red Roses, white Rose, Pink Rose, lily- of- the Valley; auratum Lily; white Marguerites, white Geraniums, Clematis.

Mapplethorpe's Orchid

Rose by Robert Mapplethorpe

Sir Cecil Beaton died in 1980.
Beverley Nichols outlived him by three years.


  1. Please go see the beautiful Steichen photograph and the words of Empire Design

    & also on my blog list-

    little augury

  2. Another post on Beverley Nichols and his gardening books is up next at Little Augury.

  3. la, a wow post. The pictures you put together practically tell the story, no text necessary. A "little" provocative of you little a. Big A.

  4. These photographs, particularly the portrait of Cecil Beaton by CB, are so beautiful.I look forward to reading Nichols.


    Poetic post.

    You have revealed their innermost longings with such tenderness and care.
    I can only imagine the shock if CB and BN et al (naked Rex) knew that one day their private lives and ideals and aesthetics, so influential--would go out to a totally enthusiastic and accepting world.
    Cheers, www.thestylesaloniste.com

  6. Dianne, You are so very right.In this book the times and the preferences & about the very incident with CB. N's biographer talks about what a risk this was to approach CB about his pref. More in this vein is discussed throughout.Also an amusing comment that Noel Coward was always scolding & warning Beaton of his manner in public especially his voice! Oh what a time it must have been. Thank you so much for adding this important aspect to the conversation , Gaye

  7. Elizabeth,
    Cecil Beaton was the photog of the rich and famous, yes? His work fascinates. The Mapplethorpes always stop me in my tracks. Nichols is good- the bio is excellent-If you like a bio. G.

  8. I pass this on- from a Nichols fan and a friend of mine-

    "The Beaton/Nichols posting looks great. Interesting tidbits and observations.
    "What an interesting photo of Rex Whistler! :-) You might be interested to know about the biography that Whistler's son wrote:"
    Rex Whistler: His Life and His Drawings - by Laurence Whistler, Art and Technics, London, 1948 - contains illustration and reference to Down the Garden Path"
    little G.

  9. hey honey,
    yes, you can use it... totally fine.
    btw.. we must think very alike... i found a book that I forgot I had until I read your blog about Grace Kelly.
    "the book of flowers" by Princess Grace.

  10. That photograph of Gilbert and George is pretty fantastic!

  11. thanks Ulla.

    Janet- I marvel at the lives Beaton encountered through the lens of the camera. Lucky for us. His portraits always intrigue and I find myself in research mode. la

  12. Hello Little A!

    thank you for adding my post .... I love your post, we must be thinking along similar lines, I have just posted Lady Hillingdon!

    kindest regards
    Becca Madden

  13. Love the way you wove all these strands together. The Mapplethorpe rose
    shocked me with its allure.

  14. Rosie, after looking thru a Mapplethorpe book of his flowers they are very provocative- imagine.
    Glad you like the post. Gaye

  15. thanks for the history -i LOVED reading this. Anything Beaton always fascinates me!

  16. AD-Cecil Beaton is fascinating isn't he. I always love running into him in the lives of the famous! I am glad you are back, hope you are filled with new ideas from the sand and shore. G.

  17. I'd be sorry if this sounded condescending, for being so obvious; but this entry is a great act of conservation of sensibilities which are absolutely central to any impulse to conserve even our claim to succeed them, much less to inherit them. I think the juxtaposition of Mapplethorpe's roses with this sequence is not something which even the most engaged partisan of his work would have requested; and while the invocation of Whistler may be fundamental, we live in an age in which not even "two lips" are put together anymore, to frame this natural sound. We sometimes don't even know how dire it is, until we ask the young if they've seen anything from silver halide, or heard any instrument projected from a stage.

    This is a gorgeous entry, and it is great and good work. One grew up in a world in which Cocteau's sweet outlaws, as he said, would have to recognise each other. Who could wish for those who know they're not bad, an inheritance ignoring their right?

  18. Carter, Here is a wealth of topics for your blog I think. I see little elements in what I am reading or studying to magnify. It appeals. Hoping to bring it up to date, and finding little changes in human nature. Gaye

  19. how I am enjoying this post !
    I am currently reading "The gift of a home"which includes the much loved Merry hall from a log cabin in the smoky mountains of Tennessee
    and was looking on the internet for a picture of "Mery hall " and therefore came by your lovely blog



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