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About the book
  • Published: 18 October 2012
  • ISBN: 9780224096300
  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 228
  • RRP: $69.99

Cecil Beaton: Theatre of War

Formats & editions

The definitive edition of Cecil Beaton's WWII photography, drawing on a wealth of material and accompanied by his own diary entries.

At the beginning of the Second World War the Ministry of Information, through the advice of Kenneth Clark, commissioned Cecil Beaton to photograph the Home Front. Beaton set to work recording the destruction of the Wren churches in the City and the heroism of Londoners under attack. He conducted a survey of Bomber and Fighter Commands for the RAF, which was published with Beaton's own astute commentary. Beaton was an effective propagandist, but his voice, like his photographs, was touchingly elegant. Whatever his subject, Beaton was always a stylist.

Beaton's wartime work for the Ministry amounted to seven thousand photographs, which are now housed with their negatives at the Imperial War Museum. They form a great document both of the landscape of war and of the passing of the Empire. He travelled through the Western Desert and on to Iraq, Palestine, Transjordan and Syria. In 1943 he left for India where he photographed the final days of the Raj in New Delhi and Calcutta before joining the Burma campaign. He ended the war deep in Chinese territory where he witnessed the Nationalist resistance to the Japanese.

Beaton's inherent sense of theatre extended from palatial drawing rooms to the jungle and the desert. Whatever the circumstances he never departed from his radical aesthetic. Theatre of War is published in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum on the occasion of a major exhibition.

  • Pub date: 18 October 2012
  • ISBN: 9780224096300
  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 228
  • RRP: $69.99

About the Author

Cecil Beaton

Sir Cecil Beaton was born in Hampstead in 1904. Throughout his life he was a diarist, painter and interior designer but most recognised as a fashion and portrait photographer for Vogue, Vanity Fair and LIFE. He won several theatre and film awards, including two Academy Awards for his stage and costume design for My Fair Lady, and was knighted in 1972. He died at home in Wiltshire in 1980.

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Praise for Cecil Beaton: Theatre of War

“One of the most beautiful books of the year.”

Richard Dorment, Telegraph

“Showcases Beaton’s grittier side as he captured countries and cultures affected by the Second World War.”


“This plush Coffee table book contains the old rogue’s finest work…an eye-catching record of Britain at war.”


“Touching and often harrowing.”

Huffington Post

“Beaton had a supreme understanding of life as theatre, and set out to document the conflict with the same dramatic intensity he had used to capture society girls in the late 1920s and 1930s.”

World of Interiors

“A handsome accompanying book of which the photographer himself would be proud.”

Country Life


Black & White Photography

“Images that by turn show great beauty, document little known frontiers of war, celebrate pivotal individuals, recall forgotten horrors, and allow glimmers of humour in the often-unalloyed tragedy of our wartime reminiscence.”


“Beaton … was able to make poetry out of his subject – whether it was a bomber pilot waiting to be called, a shipyard gantry or a child’s face.”

Daily Mail

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