From teenage princess to queen, Cecil Beaton photographed Elizabeth II over three decades and his unrivalled access to the British monarch is explored in a major new exhibition.
A timeline of the gay photographer's portraits of Her Royal Highness go on show at London's V&A Museum this week to commemorate her diamond jubilee.
Featuring more than 100 photographs, from staged wartime shots of Princess Elizabeth with her family to intimate images of the Queen with her own young children and official portraits of her coronation in 1952, the exhibition not only celebrates the head of state's 60 years on the throne but charts Beaton's own extraordinary career.
Curator Susanna Brown says the displays of Beaton's photographs, some never seen before, provide a unique insight into the history of the royal family.
'It’s an extraordinary story of one woman’s growth and her journey throughout her life,' Brown explained.
'Particularly with her family portraits we see a side of the Queen that we’re not that familiar with. She’s a marvel.
'Of course, some are staged, but others are really natural and intimate. So, they’re very special.'
Beaton photographed more than 30 members of the house of Windsor, from the 1930s to 70s, but he originally made his name as a fashion photographer, taking shots of Hollywood stars for glossy magazines including Vogue.
The decision to move away from more traditional portraiture and commission Beaton was, therefore, revolutionary at the time.
The artist first caught the attention of the royal family when he photographed the wedding of Wallace Simpson and the Duke of Windsor in 1937.
Beaton's romantic depiction of the Windsors was a perfect PR opportunity for the royals, Brown explained.
She said: 'Particularly in the first part of the exhibition, you get a sense of how widely published his photographs were.
'They were not just seen in the British press, they were posted all over the empire and they played a hugely important role as positive propaganda during the Second World War in presenting the royal family as a very stable unit.
'That sense of stability was very important during the war and Beaton’s images showed the world, no, the monarchy is tough and the resilience of Britain itself.'
Extracts from Beaton's diaries and letters, also on display at the exhibition, reveal an insight into the working practice of a royal sitting, from the intense planning beforehand to conversations with the Queen and the oressures of achieving the perfect portrait.
They also give us a glimpse into his close relationship with the monarch – a bond which lasted for more than 30 years.
'In his diaries he writes very beautifully about the dazzling effect of her smile and the feelings he had about her when he first met her.
'But it was really the Queen mum who was Beaton’s champion. She encouraged her daughter to invite Beaton to take the first pictures of baby Prince Charles and it was certainly the Queen mum who encouraged Beaton to be selected as the coronation photographer.'
Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration opens at the V&A Museum in London on Wednesday (6 February).