Cecil Beaton takes centre stage at ‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams’

Cecil Beaton’s 1949 portrait of Princess Margaret wearing her 21st birthday gown, designed by the House of Dior, takes centre stage at the V&A’s new exhibition which opened on the 2nd of February. Spanning 1947 to the present day, the exhibition traces the history and impact of one of the twentieth-century’s most influential couturiers.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, curated by Oriole Cullen, is a reimaging for British audiences of the recent Musée des Arts Décoratifs show Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve. In addition to pieces shown in Paris, Cullen has included a new exhibit exploring Dior’s special relationship with Britain: in particular the designer’s Royal commissions. A highlight of this new addition is Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday gown, which has been loaned from The Museum of London for the occasion. The Princess would later describe it as her ‘favourite dress of all’, a sentiment captured in Beaton’s official birthday portrait of 1949.

In July 1939, Beaton was summoned to Buckingham Palace to photograph Queen Elizabeth. The photographs were well received, and their commission represented the start of the second act of Beaton’s career – that of favoured Royal photographer. Following commissions including a portrait of Princess Elizabeth in her Honorary Colonel of the Grenadier Guards uniform in 1942, and the Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday portrait of 1949, Beaton’s association with the Royal family reached its apogee in 1952 when he was named the official photographer at the Coronation of the new Queen Elizabeth II.

In addition to Royal affiliations, Beaton is also connected with the House of Dior. In 1960, the photographer helped the V&A acquire an original Bar suit ensemble – the emblem of Dior’s ‘New Look’ style.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams is at the V&A, London, from February 2 – July 19, 2019. Read more here.

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