Interest in Cecil Beaton, since his death aged seventy-six in 1980, continues to flourish. Hugo Vickers’s biography (1985) was so complete as to forestall other biographers, but regular Beaton exhibitions have appeared. Some shows have examined specific aspects of Beaton’s work, such as his war pictures or his royal portraits. Others have taken in his career as a whole from his 1920s beginnings through to his war work, his triumphs as a stage and screen designer, and even his turn as a 1960s “Rip-van With-It,” as Cyril Connolly, Beaton’s friend since prep school days, put it, though Beaton was wise enough to remain an observer rather than a participant in switched-on antics. This new exhibition is the first to concentrate on Beaton’s early achievements in the late 1920s.

In some ways, this was Beaton’s most attractive period. It was then that,...


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