Some people claim there is art in everything, others that there in an art of doing everything more or less well. Surely Cecil Beaton was an exception: there was definitely art in everything he did, but he also had a very special skill, a sort of art in composing perfect images and putting together inspiring scrapbooks.
No wonder then that publishing house Assouline decided to release a volume dedicated to Beaton's wonderful collages. Introduced by James Danziger, Beaton – The Art of the Scrapbook is a 392-page volume dedicated to a man who was also a chronicler of fashion, style, people and places. The scrapbook pages collected in this thick tome are selected from the forty-two volumes owned by the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s in London and are a sort of revised version of the 1937 anthology Cecil Beaton's Scrapbook.
There was no way to arrange the pages in a chronological order since Beaton kept on going back to some of his scrapbooks in different years, adding bits and pieces here and there, so there are no precise dates, though we know that the books were completed between the 30s and the 60s.
As a result the pages are an inspiring orgy of icons and images: there are pictures of Hollywood stars, ballet dancers, paintings and dressmakers embroidering the Queen’s coronation robe and gown; Hitler and Mussolini meet in one pages, geishas in colourful attires appear in another.
Some section display an obsession with Greta Garbo and images of eyes, others are mixes of different pictures from the guests to Beistegui’s ball to the Swiss guards in the Vatican, followed by clowns and gentlemen; Charles Henri Ford in a body suit and flamenco dancers; and Capri in the 60s; Grace Kelly, Picasso and Pavlova; clippings from newspapers; busy streets from a Japanese metropolis, peaceful gardens and ruins à la Piranesi and dinner invitations and Christmas cards from the Royal Family.
There is poetry and sophistication in these pages, and a sense that, through this form, Beaton satisfied his addiction for images but also his passion for art history. From the scrapbook pages it is clear that the artist had in his mind a new kind of aestheticism: he collected images, arranged them in a collage format and manipulated them.
A photographer and innovator, Beaton brought a new style into the art of the scrapbook and, like the final instalment of his diaries published in 2003 was considered a true gem for its witty tone and elegant form, the scrapbooks will prove equally interesting and really compelling for fashion designers, photographers and artists.
"I live by my eyes" Beaton wrote in his diary a year before his stroke and this volume really proves that the dandy photographer truly did so, always managing to inject in his work an amazing energy and vitality that turned into the inspiring force for many generations of artists who followed him.
Beaton – The Art of the Scrapbook will be out in November 2010.