A behind-the-scenes and previously unexhibited photograph of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton at the beginning of their love affair is to be included in a new display of ten photographs by Michael Peto at the National Portrait Gallery in September, it was announced today (18 July 2013).
The photograph shows Elizabeth Taylor in a hat and necklace passing Burton a lit cigarette while the Welsh actor writes notes during the critically acclaimed BBC radio recording of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood in October 1963. The couple had met the previous year during the filming of Cleopatra, which was released in June 1963. Peto’s photograph depicts the couple before their first marriage in March 1964.
The portrait is one of ten photographs by Michael Peto (1908-1970) taken in London during the 1950s and 1960s to go on display from 17 September 2013 at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Selected from The Peto Collection at the University of Dundee, the display will include photographs of famous figures such as Samuel Beckett photographed in his Paris apartment in 1961, Jennie Lee photographed near the Houses of Parliament in 1965, and Paul McCartney with The Beatles during the making of the Richard Lester directed film Help! (1965). One of Peto’s last sittings featured in the display shows a young Ian McKellen at the time of his success in the Prospect theatre production of Richard II in 1969.
Michael Peto was born in 1908 in Bata, Hungary, the son of a village shop keeper. He moved to Budapest in the 1930s, and it was his work in exporting Hungarian crafts which enabled him to flee the country in the summer of 1939 as the shadow of Nazism fell across Europe, escaping just before the borders closed. Aged 31, he found himself in London, a refugee needing to build a new life. Peto took up photography in 1947 mainly to illustrate his own stories.
His work was first published in The Observer in March 1949, and he subsequently became a regular contributor alongside other celebrated photojournalists including Jane Bown, Peter Keen and David Sim. During the 1960s, as well as documenting social issues and key cultural and political figures, Peto became involved in the London ballet scene, and is especially known for his portraits of Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. Peto’s celebrated publications include A Dancer’s World (1963) and About Britain (1967) with Kenneth Harris and his work also appeared widely in newspapers and periodicals including The Tatler and The Times.
Following Peto’s death in 1970, his archive of 130,000 original negatives and vintage prints was donated by his family to the University of Dundee. The ten exhibition prints featured in this display have been printed by master printer Robin Bell from Peto’s original negatives and have been gifted to the National Portrait Gallery by the University of Dundee to celebrate Peto’s remarkable contribution to portrait photography.
Terence Pepper OBE, Head of Photographs Collection, National Portrait Gallery, London says:
‘When we were first approached in 2011 about a collaboration with The Peto Collection, I was immediately excited at the prospect of viewing at first hand as many as possible of the 130,000 negatives and prints in Dundee that survived and had largely been unexplored. Picking out this selection of important images will we hope be the start of writing Peto back into the annals of important photographers whose work can be re-evaluated and appreciated more widely.’
University of Dundee Rector and actor Brian Cox CBE, Patron of The Peto Collection says:
‘From humble beginnings, Michael Peto grew into an incredible artist and photographer. With an intense interest in the variations of human form he had a talent for capturing his subjects in their natural environment – ordinary people, Olympic athletes, The Beatles. He was able to do it all with a keen eye and subtle sensitivity. This collection is an extraordinary gift he has left us, so please, learn, appreciate, enjoy and, above all, support its future.’
This display will form one part of a season of exhibitions of Peto’s work, which will include displays at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at The Lincoln Center in New York from 2 October 2013 until 4 January 2014 and at The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in 2014.
MICHAEL PETO PHOTOGRAPHS: MANDELA TO McCARTNEY
Room 32 from 17 September 2013, National Portrait Gallery, London