Entries in books (4)


The Exuberance of Cecil Beaton

First edition of The Blessing, by Nancy Mitford with cover art by Cecil BeatonRecently I started reading Nancy Mitford’s book The Blessing, which, a few chapters in, is proving very entertaining. I first spotted this first edition book on a shelf in an op shop (thrift store), my eye caught by the author’s name as well as the colourful though tattered spine.

I had heard of Nancy Mitford (1904–1973), but I didn’t know much about her life. One of the famous Mitford sisters, she was a novelist, biographer and journalist. The book The Blessing, is considered one of her best, and was dedicated to her very good friend Evelyn Waugh. He told Mitford he found the book, “admirable, deliciously funny, consistent and complete, by far the best of your writings”.

My eye was caught by the illustration; the cover artwork of this first printing in 1951 is by Cecil Beaton and through the rearing horse, and tilting angles evokes a madcap adventure with the heroine’s young child (the ‘blessing’ of the title) at its centre.

Portrait of Coco ChanelCecil Beaton (1904–1980) was a prolifically creative person: ‘a fashion, portrait and war photographer, diarist, painter, interior designer and an Oscar-winning stage and costume designer for films and the theatre’. [Wikipedia] I have always admired Beaton’s dedication to detail in his drawings in particular: what patience he had in faithfully depicting the intricacies of interior décor in his portraits of the wealthy! The wallpaper patterns especially impress me, and it is no wonder after all, for he was also a textile designer, and his fabric designs were used by Balenciaga, Dior and Lanvin. (Read more here.)

Here is a small collection of Beaton’s exuberant illustrations that show a joyful sense of colour and playful riot of pattern and texture.

Images from Pinterest

Portrait of the Duchess of WindsorBeaton's accessories for Vogue magazineVogue cover, June 1935Vogue cover, July 1935Front cover of one of his personal scrapbooks, full of society photographsBack cover of Cecil Beaton's scrapbookWraparound book cover (click image for larger version)


Killer Diller

When I was a young teen I went through a short period of enjoying reading the adventures of The Phantom. Those comics were probably my last foray into graphic novels, but apart from the adventuring itself, the vintage forties illustrations were particularly appealing.

Click on the images for larger versionsOn the weekend I picked up a reproduction comic of The Phantom Versus “the Spy Ring” in an op shop for $1, and had fun reading it late yesterday evening. While this story came to a satisfactory conclusion, I had forgotten that these were serial! Damn. Now I’ll always wonder if the Phantom ever ran the spy chief Baron to ground.

I was glad however that his fiancé Diana featured prominently in this story, for I enjoyed her 1940s fashions, especially this beach pyjamas ensemble complete with headscarf and high heels that she wore on the dastardly Baron Danton’s yacht.

I have always hankered for a pair of beach pyjamas, but feel stymied not only by their rarity and expense, but the lamentable fact that any vintage jumpsuit I have tried on has proven to be too short in the body for me. You can see it a bit better in this detailed scan below.

In 40s parlance, aren’t they just killer diller*?

* That would be amazing.


A Match Made in Wonderland

While I am not a big fan of Salvador Dalí’s work, I must admit that pairing him with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (a childhood favourite of mine) was a stroke of brilliance. An editor at Random House commissioned the artist to illustrate an exclusive edition of the book in the 1960s, with all copies signed by the artist.

The book celebrated its 150th anniversary two years ago, and this edition was was published for the public by Princeton University Press. Currently in Melbourne, the Australian Centre of the Moving Image is presenting a world premiere exhibition celebrating the tale as it has appeared on film, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this book might be amongst the merchandise on sale.

Here is the phantasmagorical result of Dalí’s reimaginings of the famous tale. Read more here.


The Lost Book

A little while ago I briefly glimpsed this picture somewhere on my computer; it took a moment for the image to sink into my consciousness, and by the time I thought to pause and take it in, I had already clicked on. I searched high and low in all my folders (or so I thought) and couldn’t find it until now, when I found it by chance. So I thought I’d better share it immediately!

I have not read this book myself in fact – I just really liked this illustration. There is a lovely light touch to the pencil and ink line drawing, in nice contrast to the serious literature, and the minimal colour palette is appealing. I have a strong suspicion that the colour has been applied in Photoshop, as the watercolour brush looks a little too mechanical, and there are too many sharply defined corners, but that does not detract from its delicacy.

This book has been lurking on my computer for so long (since June 2012) and the url I saved – storybird.com, a pretty name for a blog – has unfortunately expired.