Published on November 22, 2012 | by Shawna Warmington-Brown


Marilyn Monroe: A British Love Affair

Marilyn being photographed in a studio

Marilyn is displayed in a new way [National Portrait Gallery]

Rating: ★★★

[Subbed, no author. RC]

Marilyn Monroe is arguably one of the most enduring icons of the 20th Century, so it comes as no surprise that yet another exhibition has cropped up further immortalising the screen siren through imagery. The affectionately named Marilyn Monroe: A British Love Affair connects all the photographs by one theme – Britain.

Open from the September 29 to the March 24, the National Portrait Gallery plays host to the exhibition which highlights the work of the British photographers who captured her image through the lens – such as Cecil Beaton and Anthony Beauchamp – the actors who worked with her and the industry figures who simply admired her.

Spanning from 1947 to 1962, the portraits document Monroe’s transformation from mousy-haired teenager to the peroxide blonde pin-up who dominated the silver screen. The space is intimate, just one room with bare white walls, though the grand high ceiling and spotlights glaring from the balcony above add a sense of glamour appropriate for the occasion.

The centrepiece is a large black and white Jack Cardiff portrait of Monroe gazing coyly at the lens, with eyes fully closed and lips partially open. What could be just another typical Monroe pose is saved by the description next to the image detailing the background history of how the picture came to be. It is the little details such as these that make the exhibition all the more interesting.

There are snapshots of Monroe in various photos with an array of co-stars also present. But the majority of images that adorn the main wall are those of her and her co-star Laurence Olivier, taken from backstage and publicity stills from The Prince and the Showgirl.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the exhibition however, is the display of rare British magazine covers encased behind glass featuring Monroe on the front. Such covers include a 1960 Sight and Sound issue in which she stares with a wide-eyed innocence into the camera and the 1960 edition of the Picture Show which shows her in fishnet stockings and heels posing seductively.

This juxtaposition of Monroe’s differing personas is a consistent theme throughout. Photographs taken by Beauchamp of Monroe in a yellow bikini hanging alongside Beaton’s portrait of her dressed in black and wearing a despondent expression being just one example.

While this may be nothing entirely new, it isn’t a bad way to spend an hour should you find yourself nearby. Admission is free.

Visit Marilyn Monroe: A British Love Affair at The National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE


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