This bold likeness of the American Olympic fencer Kinmont Hoitsma was painted by his partner, the great English artist, photographer and designer Cecil Beaton, and remained in his possession until his death in 2013.
Beaton first met Hoitsma in 1963 at a bar in San Francisco during a brief weekend sojourn from nearby Hollywood, where he was designing costumes for the film adaptation of My Fair Lady. The connection was immediate, and the following year Hoitsma moved to London where he stayed with Beaton whilst studying at the Slade School of Fine Art. Although the relationship was relatively brief – Kinmont moved back to America one year later – their friendship lasted much longer and they remained very close friends for the rest of Beaton’s life.
Although becoming an academic in later life, athletics was Hoitsma’s main passion during his formative years and in 1956 he fenced for the United States at the Melbourne Olympics, reaching the quarter finals for individual men’s Épée.
Beaton was born in Hampstead and first came into contact with photography after using his grandma’s Kodak A3 camera and his family as models. After leaving Cambridge with no degree and failing miserably as an office worker in a family-friend’s business, Beaton focussed all his attention on portrait photography. Although his technique was nothing particularly unheard of, his compositional ideas, which frequently included home-made props and painted theatrical backgrounds, caught the attention of an emerging group of young, wealthy patrons coined by the press ‘The Bright Young Things’. This group, comprising of aspiring socialites and aristocrats including the Sitwell siblings and Stephen Tennent, immediately found familiarity in Beaton’s reactive approach to photography, and for a time he documented their bohemian lifestyles of lavish parties, heavy drinking and fast-pace games including treasure hunts through central London. With the support of Osbert Sitwell, Beaton staged his first one-man show at the Cooling Gallery in 1927 and again in 1930 by which point his reputation was such that of the leading lights whom he held in such high regard only Queen Mary and, surprisingly, Virginia Woolf had declined to sit for him.
The outbreak of the Second World War allowed Beaton, who was appointed a war photographer, to produce some of his most inspiring works, including his iconic portraits of Queen Elizabeth II enthroned and Sir Winston Churchill at his desk at No.10 Downing Street.
Following the War Beaton drew his attentions to the theatrical arts, designing stage sets and costumes for a number of prominent productions including The School for Scandal (1949) and My Fair Lady in 1956 - later working on the film adaptation in Hollywood too. His work as director of arts and costume designer earned Beaton two Oscars and naturally led to interests in fashion; in 1954 publishing The Glass of Fashion, a survey of fifty years of changing styles in dress, and later in 1971 orchestrating the V&A’s first ever exhibition of fashion titled: Fashion: An Anthology by Cecil Beaton.
Cecil Beaton, Portrait of Kinmont Hoitsma (1934-2013), Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.7 cm.)