Cecil Beaton’s photo brings the Queen within reach | Rachel Cooke


Jhe week before the queen died, I bought a little design by Cecil Beaton: a design for a yellow headdress. It is undated, and perhaps not very distinguished, although Beaton won an Oscar for the costumes he designed for gigi and my lovely lady. But these things don’t matter to me. I love its colors – shades of green-yellow, like the wings of a goldfinch – and it only cost me the price of a return ticket to Manchester (a rarefied indictment, but very damning for our railway companies, I think).

What a moment, though. Beaton was one of the Queen’s favorite photographers, a relationship which began when she was 16 – she was in pink taffeta, he aimed to photograph her ‘Gainsborough style’ – and which is said to have come to a head when he was chosen to take the official photos at the coronation, an event for which he famously arrived with a hangover, a stash of sandwiches hidden in his top hat.

Beaton could be a wasp: Malice in Wonderland, as Jean Cocteau put it. But he loved photographing dear old Baked Bean, whose gaze he described as “quiet and gentle” and whose “tiny” figure never ceased to move him when she appeared at the end of a corridor, her dress rustling.

It’s always exciting to get a photo from the framer. But I await the return of this little drawing with even more impatience than usual.

The hand that drew it pressed the shutter button of a camera that was used to photograph the woman whose death will immobilize London tomorrow.

A mug for art

Carolee Schneemann’s exposure appeared to be aiming for a record number of trigger warnings. Photography: Courtesy of Canyon Cinema

The Barbican’s Carolee Schneemann (1939-2019) retrospective is, to use a non-art-critical term, mad mad: a veritable parody of a show by a feminist artist. Admire with astonishment a parchment that the artist took out of her vagina! Feast your eyes on bits of toilet paper she printed with her menstrual blood. Walk through these “vulvic spaces”, and feel anger and power and all sorts of other major emotions. (In the shop, I felt a powerful surge of lust when I saw the handcrafted Schneemann-inspired mugs, which are far more appealing than anything in the galleries.)

Were the curators trying to be ironic when they came up with the idea of ​​showing Schneemann’s film of herself having sex in a darkened room lined with red velvet movie theater seats? I do not know. Anyway, I didn’t want to sit next to the two guys who were having fun during my visit. No wonder the exhibit seems to be aiming for some kind of record when it comes to triggering warnings, although I myself didn’t take up the offer of “support” she kindly made in the one of them on behalf of his staff.

It’s my funeral

The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, draped in the Royal Standard with the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign's Orb and Sceptre.
The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, draped in the Royal Standard with the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign’s Orb and Sceptre. Photograph: Reuters

It can only be a good thing if the Queen’s funeral encourages people to think about their own arrangements. But you can go too far. Over a bottle of red wine, my dear domestic colleague and I talked about what we wanted in the end and it all got pretty out of control. For him: Altar boys singing Todd Rundgren’s Love Is the Answer (“Can you make sure the voices crack on the falsetto piece at the end?”) and the last lines of Tennyson Ulysses (“Perhaps we shall touch the Happy Isles, And shall we see the great Achilles, whom we knew…”).

For me: a marching band that plays Elgar’s Nimrod and as many TS Eliot Little Gidding as the (inevitably large) crowd will tolerate it, intoned lightly by Simon Russell Beale.

Rachel Cooke is an Observer columnist

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