the proust ball

“I have always loathed the Burtons for their vulgarity, commonness and crass bad taste, she combining the worst of US and English taste, he as butch and coarse as only a Welshman can be. She wanted compliments. She got none. I felt I must be professional and continued, but not without loathing at this monster. Her breasts, hanging and huge, were like those of a peasant woman suckling her young in Peru. They were seen in their full shape, blotched and mauve, plum. Round her neck was a velvet ribbon with the biggest diamond in the world pinned on it. On her fat, coarse hands more of the biggest diamonds and emeralds, her head a ridiculous mass of diamond necklaces, sewn together, with a snood of blue and black pom-poms and black aisprey aigrettes. Sausage curls! Alexandre, the hairdresser, had done his worst. And this was the world’s biggest draw! In comparison everyone else looked ladylike.”

- Cecil Beaton

She’s everything I dislike. I have always loathed the Burtons for their vulgarity, commonness and crass bad taste, she combining the worst of U.S. and English taste.

‘I treated her with authority, told her not to powder her nose, to come in front of the cameras with it shining.

'She wanted compliments. She got none. “Don’t touch me like that,” she whined! Her breasts, hanging and huge, were like those of a peasant woman suckling her young in Peru. On her fat, coarse hands more of the biggest diamonds and emeralds… And this was the woman who is the greatest “draw”. In comparison everyone else looked ladylike.

—  Cecil Beaton on photographing Elizabeth Taylor for the Proust Ball.

“A vulgar, common monster. ‘She wanted compliments. She got none.”, was Cecil Beaton’s recollection of Elizabeth Taylor the day he took this photograph of her for the occasion of the 1971 Proust Ball. His complete journal entry reads as follows:


“I have always loathed the Burtons for their vulgarity, commonness and crass bad taste, she combining the worst of US and English taste, he as butch and coarse as only a Welshman can be. She wanted compliments. She got none. I felt I must be professional and continued, but not without loathing at this monster. Her breasts, hanging and huge, were like those of a peasant woman suckling her young in Peru. They were seen in their full shape, blotched and mauve, plum. Round her neck was a velvet ribbon with the biggest diamond in the world pinned on it. On her fat, coarse hands more of the biggest diamonds and emeralds, her head a ridiculous mass of diamond necklaces, sewn together, with a snood of blue and black pom-poms and black aisprey aigrettes. Sausage curls! Alexandre, the hairdresser, had done his worst. And this was the world’s biggest draw! In comparison everyone else looked ladylike.” - via The Unexpurgated Beaton Diaries, 1970-1980


The camera does have a knack for revealing the truth of its subjects’ inner being, and it can also reveal the inner thoughts and intentions of the person shooting behind it.

If Beaton’s written words reveal spite, the photograph reveals other intentions: a loving, stoic admiration for the World’s Greatest Beauty.

I have always loathed the Burtons for their vulgarity, commonness and crass bad taste, she combining the worst of US and English taste…I treated her with authority, told her not to powder her nose, to come in front of the camera with it shining. She wanted compliments. She got none. I asked her to hide a shoulder, lean forward, and went forward to this great thick revolving mass of femininity in its rawest, and put her in her position…But I felt I must be professional to the last ounce of energy and continued, but not with anything but disgust and loathing at this monster. Her breasts, hanging and huge, were like those of a peasant woman suckling her young in Peru…In comparison, everyone else looked ladylike
—  CECIL BEATON’S ICONIC LIZ TAYLOR RANT