08 May 2014

At home, or Sleeping,

with CECIL.

Beaudesert, makers of bespoke poster beds, is recreating the Cecil Beaton's Circus bed-designed for him by Rex Whistler. The very bed Cecil tucked into at Ashcombe, Wiltshire from 1930 to 1945. The  Circus bed will be the main attraction for the exhibition Cecil Beaton AT HOME -taking place at Salisbury Museum, in Wiltshire from May 23th to September 19th.

It's an extraordinary bed-and an extraordinary task to match the creative vision of Beaton and Whistler in concert, but that's what this exciting exhibition is all about.

The bed will be displayed with copies of murals by Beaton's friends, Oliver Messel and Rex Whistler. Working out from only a handful of black and white images,and Beaton's description -Beaudesert has challenged itself with bringing Beaton's Baroque folly to life, complete with Neptune, seahorses, and a modest initialing "CB" of the whole thing.

 "Rex [Whistler] also made designs for my four-poster bed, which was executed by Savages, the circus-roundabout-makers of King’s Lynn. Father Neptune at the bedhead was flanked by cupids and subaqueous plants. The canopy was held aloft by barley-sugar posts of brass”-Beaton-from Ashcombe

from Beaudesert's Roger Barnard:
We have carved the posts and then had them specially finished to give the high metal effect, the head and footboard have been carved and then painted by hand to match the original, working out the colours from the only existing image of the room - a painting by Sir Francis Rose from 1939. We have had to sort out different tones in the mono images to determine the real colours, using the gouache painting as a guide.

It’s been in production for over 6 months but I think the end result will be stunning!

 Beaudesert MD / Exhibition Curator Andrew Ginger discussing the final details in the workshop with the joiner and painter.

The bed in white in the workshop showing the head and footboard prior to painting

 Carving being done for the corner masks (depicting the four winds)

Beaton described his life in the country as" an oasis of luxury & civilisation." The exhibition's curator, Andrew Ginger points out the retreats were integral to his work-providing inspiration-and for protean Beaton- a vital restorative. From his beloved Ashecombe, the exhibition next takes up residence in Beaton’s  Reddish House, a manor house in Broad Chalke- Wiltshire. Reddish House was Beaton's home from 1947 until his death in 1980.

Dorian Leigh in the drawing room of Beaton’s 18th century Reddish House
photographed by Beaton

Beaudesert   has produced the floral chintz Beaton decorated with at Reddish house from photographs of the original curtains which were auctioned in Salisbury only last year (meaning they had hung in the same place in his house for almost 70 years) when the current owner had them - and his french fireplace shown in this Modess® advert of 1951 of Dorien Leigh - removed.

The Reddish Chintz, Beaudesert

The Reddish House Living Room

The Reddish Chintz is being made up into a slip cover for Beaton’s Original sofa from Reddish House.

Time worn and tatty, Beaton's sofa found many a famous bottom seated upon it. The lines of the sofa are so appealing. Its blocked arms and deep seats made it a place for perfect idles and idle gossip.

Beaton brainstorming no doubt, and pouring over scrapbooks, while Garbo In Love sits with Simba, the pug.

Beaudesert has already has fabric collections of hand-blocked prints so the process of making the chintz, though daunting and difficult, has been possible because of their existing expertise in recreating archive designs from original pieces. Its Cecil Beaton Fabric Collection already houses Beaton's whimsical patterns made up in silk, linen, and cotton.

Screen-printed in the UK the Reddish Chintz will soon be available on a linen ground as well , in a slightly more antique interpretation.

Cecil Beaton by Gordon Anthony vintage print, 1935 (via National Portrait Gallery)

Wherever Beaton stopped to rest-he was always seeking the footlights-creating his own stage at home where he looked his effervescent best-ready for his close-up. As readers of little augury know-Cecil Beaton is a personal favorite of mine-this exhibition might just be cause for crossing the waters on a pilgrimage to Beaton-as if I needed the excuse.

Beaudesert, bespoke makes of poster beds here
The bed will be on view as part of the 'Cecil Beaton At Home' exhibition,
curated by Andrew Ginger for Salisbury Museum, from 23 May 2014

photographs and notes provided for the post by Beaudesert's Roger Barnard with many thanks



  1. Gaye this is simply incredible, the bed is an astounding work of art. Thank you for sharing so many marvelous images! I love the portrait of Beaton!

    The Arts by Karena

  2. This post is one great show. I watched the video after reading so I was able to see its story unfold. The video was like entering a diorama. Thank you for all.

  3. Dear Gaye.
    Thank you. Betty Hanley, who was my mentor, started a lamp & lampshade company in London in 1947. She was a great friend of Nancy Lancaster & John Fowler, for whom she supplied all their lighting and through whom she met Cecil Beaton and for whom she did lots of work. It is lovely to see pictures of 'our' products in old photos like this.
    You are an amazing Decorative Sleuth!
    Best wishes,

    1. Must have more stories! Please have her email me-I would love to do a story-with stories! best, Gaye

  4. Although I am a HUGE fan of the work of Rex Whistler - and Cecil Beaton - that circus bed is probably the last thing I would go to the trouble and expense to recreate. I think its success was in its ephemeral, fantasy-like quality, valued as such, without seriousness. But I admire the effort and would love to see the exhibit.

    1. I'm sure it is meant to be the show stopper in the exhibit rather than a serious to be made again bed. It does seem to capture the energy of the two though-and as makers of poster beds an obvious choice for Beaudesert. pgt

    2. I'm with John Tackett on this one.
      Surely the original bed was cobbled together with found elements?
      And the posts in ordinary gold paint rather than gleaming gold leaf as reproduced?
      It had a sort of tawdry charm--ephemeral being the operative word.

    3. 'The bed was built by a company called Savages of King's Lynn, Norfolk, (noted in posting)which built fairground roundabouts and other rides. The bed was a by all accounts a marvel with Father Neptune taking pride of place at the bed-head. The only disappointment was that 'the bed could not be made to revolve to the accompaniment of steam music'.Buckle, Richard (Ed.), Self Portrait with Friends, The Selected Diaries of Cecil Beaton, 1926-1974, London 1974.

      Savages is a story in itself-producing flamboyant carousel with hand carving and vibrant colors -and reigned supreme in the craft.Sometimes they had Italian carvers do the work-but often the work was in house. From the notes on Savages-it seems they used the "gaudy colors and gilt"

  5. It is gratifying to see that his bed is being reproduced so carefully. But one wonders what has happened to the original?

    1. Not sure, yes I do wonder and will inquire-or see if Roger can respond. thanks Cynthia. pgt

  6. Another of your wonderful posts, thank you. I say you'd better book
    your flight!

  7. What a wonderful project!

    1. townhouse-such an enormous undertaking. would love to see the exhibit.

  8. Roger Barnard of Beaudesert tells us: The original Circus Bed was sold at auction on London's Caledonian Road with other pieces of furniture from Ashcombe which Beaton thought of as 'frivolous junk' after he moved to Reddish in autumn 1947.

  9. Very beautiful...Neptune, Clam Shell, Hippocampus, Unicorn and a Putti. So much like a marvelous Sleigh from the Carousel of my youth! Ingenious really to incorporate melodic moments of childhood into the very NEST where one lays their body and soul at the end of the days drama! Isn't life just that, a Carousel? Spinning faster and faster as we age?
    I wonder if he sway himself as an Aquatic Beauty...the theme does bear thought. Would love too see this exhibition of Exhibitionism.

    1. Beaton's Ashcombe is so reflective of the life he led before the war-afterwards he discarded that fantasy decorating he so love. It would be a good reason to be in England this summer-though one never needs a reason. xx pgt



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