The Legendary Lee Miller, a lecture by Antony Penrose at the Arts Club

There is always something happening around the work of Lee Miller. Her portrait by Man Ray was the poster of the recent retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery.

Early this month Thames and Hudson published Lee Miller in Fashion with thousands of unseen photos uncovered by Antony Penrose from Vogue’s London office.

Lee Miller, © Lee Miller Archives 2013 and underlying rights holders 2013

Lee Miller, © Lee Miller Archives 2013 and underlying rights holders 2013

Last night at the Arts Club, Antony Penrose gave an engaging lecture on the legendary Lee Miller who was his mother. He gave an overall view of this surrealist artist’s surrealist life. The boy who bit Picasso is a fascinating lecturer that demonstrated that it would be more than inadequate to confine Lee Miller to the role of a muse. She indeed threw away to rules book. Not many would be able to be in turn a model, muse, an artist, a combat reporter and a gourmet chef in a lifetime.

Lee Miller by Steichen © Lee Miller Archives 2013 and underlying rights holders 2013

Lee Miller by Steichen © Lee Miller Archives 2013 and underlying rights holders 2013

She started off her modelling by accident, literally, as Condé Nast saved her life in the streets of Manhattan. She then flew to Paris where she met Man Ray with whom she lived a passionate love story.

Lee Miller/Man Ray, Neck

Lee Miller/Man Ray, Neck

There equally fervent collaboration (that they invented solarisation together) allowed her to become a photographer of her own rights in the process. The encounters with the Surrealists are a source of infinite anecdotes each being more delectable than the next.

Blood of a poet statue

Blood of a poet, statuesque muse

She started her studio in New York in 1932 before leaving for Cairo after having married Aziz Eloui Bey. Bored among the expatriates who could not compete with the charms of the likes of Jean Cocteau, she went on trips to explore Egypt. The result is a series of fantastic photographs that are far more than just landscapes thanks to the intensity of the message they convey.

Lee Miller, Portrait of Space, 1937, © Lee Miller Archives 2013 and underlying rights holders 2013

Lee Miller, Portrait of Space, 1937, © Lee Miller Archives 2013 and underlying rights holders 2013

On a trip to Paris she meets Roland Penrose, surrealist artist and collector, founder of the Institute of Contemporary Art. He will be her husband until her death. They count amongst their friends Picasso who will paint 6 portraits of Lee Miller à L’Arlésienne.

Lee Miller’s Portrait as Arlésienne 1937. Oil on canvas A. & R. Penrose, England © Picasso Estate. VEGAP

Lee Miller’s Portrait as Arlésienne
1937. Oil on canvas
A. & R. Penrose, England
© Picasso Estate. VEGAP

When the Second World Wars puts an end to the festivities, Lee Miller becomes in the face of all opposition a war reporter. She does it frenetically, taking pictures of the ruins, the victims, the concentration camps managing to go ahead where the most competent war reporters were flinching. It is not surprising that upon her return she suffered from what we would call today a posttraumatic stress disorder. She went down the path of alcohol abuse that she overcame thanks to surrealist cuisine.

Lee Miller, © Lee Miller Archives 2013 and underlying rights holders 2013

Lee Miller, © Lee Miller Archives 2013 and underlying rights holders 2013

Such an inspiring and daring life makes her a forever young character whose exhibitions attracts mostly 18-25 year old and among them a large proportion of women. At then end of it all, it is difficult to define Lee Miller or assign her to a category. Like Antony Penrose did, it seems that one can only talk about The Lives of Lee Miller.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s