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Painting of two people fencing, one man is dressed as a woman

A look at diverse forms of love and desire through works in the Royal Collection

Cecil Beaton (1904-80)

Princess Margaret (1930-2002) and Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) 1949

RCIN 2315237

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Cecil Beaton was one of the most celebrated British photographers of the twentieth century. His sitters ranged from the Royal Family, to Hollywood stars, to the group of bohemian aristocrats known as the Bright Young Things. Beaton’s photographs of the Royal Family were central in promoting the monarchy’s public image. This photograph of the young Princess Margaret (1930–2002) contains a self-portrait of Beaton. Dressed in a suit and tie, he is purposefully reflected in the mirror beyond the princess, his camera visible in front of his chest.

Throughout his life Beaton had relationships with men and women, most notably with Peter Watson, Kinmont Hoitsma and Greta Garbo. Beaton was conflicted about his sexual orientation, writing in his diary:

I have never been in love with women and I don’t think I ever shall in the way that I have been in love with men. I’m really a terrible, terrible homosexualist and try so hard not to be.


For the majority of Beaton’s life homosexuality was criminalised, and many LGBT+ individuals struggled with their identities in the face of social and legal condemnation.