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Cecil Beaton (1904 – 80)

‘The call from the Palace to say The Queen wanted me to do the Coronation photographs for posterity was such a relief as well as a joy and thrill’

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place at Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953, over a year after the death of King George VI and The Queen’s accession to the throne. The society photographer Cecil Beaton was chosen to take the official photographs of the Coronation. These were taken inside Buckingham Palace after The Queen and other members of the Royal Family had returned from the service.

Beaton’s Coronation photographs differed greatly from those taken for the Coronations in 1911 and 1937. He rejected the static line-ups of members of the Royal Family, standing within the familiar architecture of Buckingham Palace, in favour of something more dramatic. Beaton added an air of theatricality and glamour by photographing the young Queen against a painted backdrop of Henry VII’s Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

The Queen is shown holding the orb and sceptre, and wearing the Imperial State Crown, Coronation Robes, and the Coronation Gown designed by Norman Hartnell. Beaton photographed The Queen in various poses during the sitting. The use here of the profile pose provides a sense of tradition and continuity, for rulers through the ages have appeared in profile on coins, medals and stamps.

Beaton’s photographs seem to encapsulate the sentiment expressed by Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister at the time of the Coronation. They show The Queen as ‘The gleaming figure whom Providence has brought to us in times when the present is hard and the future veiled’.