The marriage of Surrealist Roland Penrose and photographer Lee Miller created a formidable partnership. Now it’s being celebrated for the first time.
Words: Jack Mottram
The twin exhibitions at the Dean (iallery and the National (iallcry of Modern Art are as much a
snapshot of two lives as they are shows of the work of
husband and wife Roland Penrose and Lee Miller. Penrose is best known as biographer to his friend Picasso and as a collector who nurtured links with the predominantly Iiuropean Surrealists. curating the International Surrealist Iixhibition. held in London in I936. the Iirst showing in Britain for the vanguard of the movement. The role Penrose played in furthering Surrealist aims was even recognised by its founder: ‘I’em'ose.' wrote Andre Breton. ‘est Surrealiste dans l‘amitie.‘
Penrose. too. was instrumental in founding the Institute I’ot' (‘ontemporary Art. He was also a Surrealist artist in his own right. creating distinctive collages from picture postcards. preliguring l’op. as well as frottages. sculpture and drawings.
Ilis second wife. Lee Miller. led something of an improbable life. She rose to fame in front of the camera. as a model for lbgm' in tIteI‘thls. until a shot considered risque ended her career. Arriving in Paris in I929. Miller became muse to and collaborator with Man Ray. Not only did she model for Ray. who prodtteed fetishised images of dismembered parts of Miller's body (including the famous 'Wooden 'l‘orso‘ ). she also played a significant part in his artistic development. accidentally coming upon the technique of solarisation that typilied much of his work. She even went on assignments in his place as he focused his efforts on painting.
Miller catne into her own. however. with the onset of war as a photojournalist. returning to the lbguc payroll as war correspondent. exchanging portraiture and Surrealist provocation for documentary series on the Blitz. the siege of St Man and. most famously. the liberation of the concentration camps.
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’Miller was very self-effacing about her work as an artist, and Penrose tended to promote the 5~,,,.,.(,(,/,g.,,W 7-,“. work of others, so neither have really had their due.’
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Lee Miller: Self Portrait, New York, 1932
The pair met in l‘)37. and married a decade later. Working together to promote the etttlse of contemporary art and collaborating on two books about I’icasso. I’or Richard (‘alvocoressr director of the National Gallery of Modern Art. the two exhibitions are the culmination of a long and fruitful association with the Penrose ('ollcction. "l'his gallery has had a long relationship for the past twenty years with the Penrose familyf he say s. ‘and we‘ve shown works in the past from the Penrose collection. which is one of the Iincst collections of contemporary art in Britain. before eventually acquiring some works and the Roland I’cnrose librat‘y.‘
‘Because of that relationship when it came to I’enrose‘s centenary year. we felt we wanted to honour his role as a great activist in the art world. And. between Roland I’enrosc and Ice Miller’s meeting in 1937 and her death in I077. the pair collaborated with each other. and encouraged each other. but there has never been an exhibition documenting their work together. so we thought the idea of two complementary shows seemed appropriate. It‘s also significant because both I’enrose and Miller tended to hide their lights under a busth when they were alive: Miller was very self—effacing about her work as an artist. and I’cnrose tended to promote the work of others. organising exhibitions or writing on art. rather than promoting his own work. so neither have really had their due. Hopefully. the two exhibitions will redress that.‘
As well as showing some 2()() Lee Miller photographs. and many previously unseen collage pieces and works on paper by her litisband. 'l’ln'
l’lmlogmp/zcr is an attempt to document the artists' lives. with letters and photographs. memorabilia from .\Iiller's war years as well as artists‘ books by I’icasso. .\Iax Iirnst and others to provide it sense of the couple‘s Surrealist heyday. 'Because of their place in the art world.~ (‘alvocoressi confirms. 'it's also very much about their lives. with a lot of archival material to give some sense of them as people. as well as artists.‘ I The Stif'f't’h'i’rts‘? Ami Tm} PW)f:;;;'.’5:;"‘3.': ;' P<:"":/;:: and Lee Mi/i’o': Dean Gm <3". the; Gav". r.‘ Modern Art. Edwin/11“. Sat '5) '. ."v F; S
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is,“ ,. NOMINATIONS ARE INVITED from the public for the 2001 Turner Prize which will be awarded at Tate Britain on 4 December 2001. The Prize is open to a British artist (any artist working in the UK and British-born artists working abroad) under the age of 50 for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding 24 May 2001. Nominations can be made by e-mail through the Tate website (www.tate.org.uk) or at www.channel4.com/plus/ turner by 24 May 2001. Alternatively, you can fill in a form available from the four Tate sites and send to the Director of Tate Britain. Millbank, London SW1 P 4RG. ANI ) i;/\I )I r /'\l-3 l Ifsl I X‘sliNt )I I) inn? t, z“ -»
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Soldiers by last year’s Turner Prize winner Wolfgang Tillmans