One Last Glimpse

Thursday 26th March 2020

How are you managing? Are you still there?

I’m just going to take one last look back before our present terrible reduction. Cecil Beaton and Picasso. I re-visited the Cecil Beaton exhib at the National Portrait Gallery on that last Friday. On the last Thursday Royston and I toured the Picasso, mis-named ‘Works on Paper’ at the Royal Academy after the private breakfast. Neither of these shows will be seen by anyone now, presumably.

The general idea is: Picasso is a towering genius whereas someone like Cecil Beaton is barely decorative. At the packed PV with Mrs May it was hardly possible to view the Cecil. But touring the Picasso, Royston said, ‘Certainly the Paris of Picasso was more innovative than the London of Cecil Beaton.’ Standing there in the midst of the works, I thought: this must be right. Blue Picasso is heaven. I never knew that a Rose period followed, before he burst forth with the astonishing full avant garde of Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon. Further phases followed, including one of painting women to look like Easter Island statues. That was in the 1930s, so there must have been many more phases but I can’t quite recall what they were. In old age, he was filmed with no top on, doing something with marker pens. It was a kind of instant art. Terrifying black eyes. Possessed. Our curator, whom we adore and have enjoyed many times in private tours, was making a joke of Picasso’s conduct in real life, consuming muses, discarding wives, and dedicated to male phallic supremacy. I wish I understood better. I’ve never liked Picasso, always preferred Matisse, apart from the Blue. ‘It leaves me cold,’ said Royston, finally. I agree. One could only feel a rapacious over-powering genius, tremendous technique, hardly a faulty picture, but ugly and ploughing this narrow furrow of sex, sex, sex, with him on top. No faces, or at least no expression, just blanks, People as pure form, interfering emotion stripped away. I know about that. It was all the rage when I was young. Modernism. Although in fact misleading, because when you try to remove the conventional perspective and the natural emotional engagement of the artist with the subject, a lot of other more dangerous obsessions come galloping through the gap, in Picasso’s case penis-mania and setting women up as muses in order to destroy them.

The next day I was at the nearly deserted National Portrait Gallery to re-visit silly Cecil and his trivial photos. He hoped to elevate his sisters to Society. Even his mother joined in the dressing up. His great dream in later life was to be found by his friends dining alone with the Queen Mother. At Ashcombe in the 1930s, his country home, he mounted extraordinary Fete Champetre, which was lot of Gays and their women friends scampering around. A particular interest, which I and many other Poor Little Rich Gays share, was in minor Germany Royalty of the pre-1st World War era. His masterwork, My Royal Past, is a spoof memoir of Princess Baroness von Bulop. Its glory is the group photo, which must have been taken at Ashcombe: ‘The arrival of King Boris at Klosterhoven, 1899: a souvenir of happier days.’ Happier days was grim Royalties, clamped into frockage with a supremely random vase, devastatingly off-centre, towering beside them. This picture wasn’t in the exhib. Instead you got Baba Beaton as the Duchess of Malfi, Sylvia Townsend Warner, the Duchess of Westminster and so on. Cecil drew from the theatre for his mis-en-scene; it’s a highly artificial frame-work, lavish and contrived, in which the character of the sitter is somehow manifest. In that sense more successful than Picasso. And Cecil had more fun with his dressing-up and carry-on. Despite the wracking background worry of that day and all the days since, Cecil gave me more joy than Picasso. Let’s put it this way: if Picasso is a raving genius, then why shouldn’t Cecil be as well? Only better. Just as limited as their different ways, equally inventive and new, but Cecil with the greater hold on reality, doing what Art is supposed to do, transforming but not disfiguring.

 

'The Arrival of King Boris at Klosterhoven, 1899: a souvenir of happier days' Photograph from 'My Royal Past' not in Exhib

‘The Arrival of King Boris at Klosterhoven, 1899: a souvenir of happier days’ Photograph from ‘My Royal Past’ not in Exhib

Baba Beaton as the Duchess of Malfi

Baba Beaton as the Duchess of Malfi

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier

Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong

The Duchess of Westminster: Tiara like Glass

The Duchess of Westminster: Tiara like Glass

Sylvia Townsend Warner

Sylvia Townsend Warner

Oliver Messel in a Costume

Oliver Messel in a Costume

Nora Holt: Royston King complained there Weren't Enough Black People

Nora Holt: Royston King complained there Weren’t Enough Black People

A Minor German Royalty

A Minor German Royalty

Another

Cecil Graphed by Another as Elinor Glyn

Cecil Graphed by Another as Elinor Glyn

Cecil Having Fun

Cecil Having Fun

 

Posted Thursday, March 26, 2020 under Adrian Edge day by day.

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