BEAT ON BEATON






When they both attended the same primary school as nine-year-olds, Evelyn Waugh bullied Cecil Beaton. Waugh admitted in adulthood that the sight of tears in the long eyelashes of the pretty boy drove him to acts of sadism. Pins were involved. As was pea-shooter spittle.

The following photo of Evelyn Waugh was taken by Cecil Beaton in 1955 when they were both fifty-one.

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Evelyn Waugh by Cecil Beaton, bromide print on white card mount, April 1955. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

To better understand the relationship between subject and photographer, one has to realise the position Cecil Beaton was in when he took a photograph. Which you can see from his session with Marilyn Monroe a few months later.

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Marilyn Monroe by Cecil Beaton, bromide print on white card mount,1956. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

Cecil Beaton looked down on the top of his camera. When photographing a standing Evelyn Waugh, this would have exposed the back of his balding head to Waugh's scrutiny. Would the adult Waugh have resisted the urge to stub his cigar out on the once pretty boy's thinly fleshed skull? Or the unprotected nape of Beaton's neck? In answering this question, you might want to take account of the following:

Evelyn Waugh hated what he called 'pansies', even though he had two romantic/sexual relationships with men when he was at Oxford.

Later, when Olivia Plunket-Greene wouldn't show Waugh the physical affection he craved, he took her by the wrist and held it fast as he stubbed out his cigar on the flesh of her arm.

Beaton recalled their first meeting. Evelyn ran full tilt across the playground and stopped directly in front of him with a diabolical stare. He stood on Cecil's toes and moved his face slowly towards the quaking child's,
"ever-closer until the eyes converged into one Cyclops nightmare."

Perhaps it was the Cyclops nightmare that Beaton was trying to recreate in 1955. Or the pea-shooter spittle humiliation.

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Evelyn Waugh by Cecil Beaton, bromide print on white card mount, April 1955. Detail. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

In my opinion, the above picture of Evelyn Waugh is the most purposeful (and somehow the most tender) ever taken of him. Certainly, the photograph rewards scrutiny. Everything these two did in terms of their respective art was aesthetic and intense.

Exemplary artists, both. I hope it doesn't seem patronising if I put it like this:

tweedle-Ev