The unique relationship between Pablo Picasso and the iconic photographer Lee Miller is explored in a stunning new exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery this summer. This fascinating relationship, between the greatest artist of the twentieth century and the beautiful model, who became a skilled and highly influential photographer, spanned 36 years, from their first meeting in 1937 to Picasso’s death in 1973.
Over the course of their friendship Miller photographed Picasso more than a thousand times, and the artist, in turn, created a remarkable series of portraits of Lee. Lee Miller and Picasso has been organised by the Lee Miller Archives, and will include 100 photographs, as well as Picasso’s striking Portrait of Lee Miller as l’Arlesienne, painted in 1937.
Highlights will range from intimate snapshots taken on the beaches of the South of France in the late 1930s, to memorable images of the Picasso’s famous visit to Britain in 1950, when he stayed with Miller and her husband Roland Penrose at their Sussex farm. A touching photograph taken on the liberation of Paris in 1944 when Miller, a war photographer with the US forces, was reunited with Picasso, is one many images in the exhibition which capture the artist amidst the chaos of his studio. Miller continued to make regular trips to visit Picasso until the early 1970s, and her studio shots offer a fascinating insight into the working methods of this restlessly creative genius.
Lee Miller was born in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1907. Interested in photography from a young age, she became a fashion model and found fame as a cover-girl for magazines such as American Vogue. On moving to Paris in 1929 she sought out the photographer Man Ray, and became involved with the Surrealist movement with which he was closely associated. Miller spent three years working alongside Man Ray as his muse, model and studio assistant, quickly becoming an accomplished photographer in her own right.
Lee left Man Ray in 1932, and established her own successful studio in New York. She first met Picasso in the summer of 1937, when she travelled to Mougins in the South of France with Penrose, the British Surrealist artist. The pair had recently met in Paris and become lovers; they would marry ten years later. Picasso painted Miller six times during her stay, creating works such as his Portrait of Lee Miller as l’Arlesienne, which Penrose bought for Lee for £50. Picasso also featured prominently in Miller’s photographs of the trip, along with Man Ray and his new partner Ady Fidelin, and other Surrealist friends such as Eileen Agar, the poet Paul Éluard and his wife Nusch. Intimate photos show the group, who were all staying at Picasso’s villa, enjoying a relaxed picnic lunch, smiling on a sunny terrace, as well as Picasso playing in the sea with his toddler son Claude.
In 1942 Miller became one of only six accredited women war correspondents, and the only woman photo-reporter active in European combat areas during World War II. She contributed war documentary stories and photographs to Vogue, including photos of the London Blitz, dispatches on the battles in Normandy and the liberation of Paris. Arriving in the city with American troops she found herself outside the studio still used by Picasso, whom she had not seen since before the war, and immediately visited him. The remarkable photograph, published inVogue in October 1944, with the title “Lee Miller, Vogue photographer, arrived, went to see old friends”, shows Miller in uniform, and the pair smiling at each other in delight at their unexpected reunion. Picasso had declared “This is marvellous, this is the first Allied soldier I have seen, and it’s you!”
In 30 April 1945, on the day that Hitler committed suicide, Miller was with some of the first forces to enter the death camps of Buchenwald and Dachau. Later that day, she and fellow war photographer David E. Scherman found themselves in an empty flat in Munich which turned out to be Hitler’s. Scherman captured Miller washing off the horror of the day in Hitler’s bathtub, her muddy combat boots on the bathmat, in a shot that has since become iconic. The traumatizing experience of photographing the death camps would haunt Miller for the rest of her life.
Miller and Penrose married in 1947 and their son Antony was born a few months later. In 1949 they moved to Farley Farm in Sussex, where they were frequently visited by friends and key figures in the art world, including the artist Max Ernst, Alfred Barr (director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York), and of course Picasso. During his 1950 stay the artist developed a particular bond with the three-year-old Antony, which is evident in a remarkable series of photographs taken by Lee.
Lee Miller and Picasso will also feature a selection of rare archival material, including telegrams sent by Miller to Penrose from Germany in May 1945, and the couple’s wedding photo.
Christopher Baker, Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, said:“This engrossing exhibition allows us to explore the intimate and creative friendship between two extraordinary figures: the greatest painter of the twentieth century and one of the most inspiring and adventurous photographers. Providing insights into their private and public lives, it will, we hope, enrich appreciation in particular of Lee Miller’s achievement and her amazing career. The exhibition is a major contribution to the increasingly ambitious programme of photography projects at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.”
Antony Penrose, Director of the Lee Miller Archives and son of Lee Miller and Roland Penrose, said: “My parents’ friendship with Picasso was a central part of their lives. Beginning from the camaraderie and ideals shared on the beaches of the Côte d’Azur it developed rapidly into a love and creative collaboration. Roland Penrose became Picasso’s biographer, the curator of key exhibitions and regarded as “The Picasso Man”. Lee Miller lovingly chronicled the men and their achievements. It is fortunate she loved them both as much as she did. A lesser devotion would not have allowed her to tolerate Penrose’s obsessive passion for Picasso. My family’s connection to the National Galleries of Scotland goes back many decades, and this exhibition gives me a particularly deep satisfaction. Its inclusion of brilliantly chosen objects from The Roland Penrose Archive, situated in Modern Two, brings us much of the intimate back story behind Miller’s photographs in a way never shown before, and takes both Picasso and Miller’s work to a new level of understanding.”
Lee Miller and Picasso is part of the IPS (Institute for Photography in Scotland) 2015 Season of Photography, a series of lively exhibitions and events taking place across Scotland from April to September 2015.
LEE MILLER AND PICASSO 23 May − 6 September 2015 SCOTTISH NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY 1 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JD