Lee Miller and Picasso
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
1 Queen St, Edinburgh EH2 1JD, Scotland, United Kingdom
In 1937 the American photographer Lee Miller (1907-1977) met Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) whilst they were both holidaying in the South of France. Miller was travelling with Roland Penrose (1900-1984), a British artist, collector and champion of Surrealism. Picasso was involved with the Surrealist movement, and was part of a group of surrealist artists staying at the Hotel Vaste Horizon. Picasso was immediately attracted to Miller and painted her six times. In return, Miller photographed the artist, beginning a series which she continued for more than thirty years, and eventually grew to over a thousand images. For the exhibition, the collection is separated into six distinct time periods.
Pre-War Years, 1937
Shortly before going to Mougins in France, Picasso finished painting Guernica. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was seen by many as the prelude to war across Europe: accentuating the desire to celebrate life before conflict engulfed the continent. Joining Picasso in the South of France was a group of surrealist artists that included Penrose and Miller. At this time both were married to other people, but from their initial meeting earlier that year, the two had become inseparable.
Paris in War Time, 1944
Following the outbreak of World War II, Miller became official war photographer for Vogue magazine whilst Picasso remained at his Paris studio. Miller arrived in Paris on the day the city was liberated from its four-year German occupation (August 25, 1944). Despite the Nazi’s systematic persecution of Jews and dissidents, the war had not deterred Picasso from working. On arrival at Picasso’s studio, Miller found the space crammed with new paintings.
Miller continued as a war correspondent in Europe until 1946, before returning to England where she married Penrose in 1947. It would be another two years before they were able to visit Picasso in Vallauris, France, where he lived with Françoise Gilot and their two young children.
Vallauris and Paris, 1951-1956
During the 1950s, Miller and Penrose met with Picasso often. Throughout this time Picasso’s life was recorded by Miller. She continued to visit Picasso’s Paris studio, accompanying Penrose, who had begun researching for his biography of the artist. At this time the couple had temporarily moved to Paris, as Penrose took the post of Fine Arts Officer for the British Council.
Picasso began to find the pressure of life in Paris oppressive: missing the sea and the warmth of Provence. On an impulse, he bought a large house in Cannes, with a sweeping view over the Golfe de la Napoule. In 1956 Penrose featured Picasso in an exhibition at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London, called Picasso Himself.
Penrose continued to visit Picasso, but ill health prevented Miller from travelling until 1961 when Picasso’s career was at its peak, and the artist had moved to an old farmhouse in Mougins. Wealth and international honours were not Picasso’s main concern: preferring to continue working on his art and greeting his closest friends.
Picasso died at his home in 1973. Both Penrose and Miller mourned for the loss of their close friend. In 1977, Miller died, forty years after her seminal encounter with Picasso in the South of France.
Image: Lee Miller, Picasso with La Coiffure, Villa La Californie, France © Lee Miller Archives, England 2015. All rights reserved. © Succession/DACS, London, 2015.