Lee Miller was, by any standards, a remarkable woman. Born on 23rd April 1907 in Poughkeepsie, New York of German and Scottish descent, she was a Vogue model, photographer, artists’ muse, war correspondent, gourmet cook, wife and mother.
At nineteen she was discovered in a New York street by Condé Nast and subsequently appeared on the cover of his magazine Vogue in March 1927. For the next two years she was that city’s most sought after model. In 1929 she moved to Paris and soon became closely involved in the art scene, especially with the Surrealists. She had her portrait painted by Picasso and was photographed by Man Ray and became his student and lover.
This splendid book, just published by Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam and accompanied by a small exhibition in The Depot, takes us through Ms Miller’s rich and varied life. Written by Saskia van Kampen-Prein it has been put together largely from the Lee Miller Archive which is run by her son, Anthony Penrose, in England. It is thanks to him that his mother is not forgotten. After her death in 1977 he discovered, in the attic of the family home, about sixty thousand photographs, negatives, documents, journals, cameras, love letters and souvenirs in cardboard boxes and trunks which he set about preserving for posterity. Mr Penrose has also contributed to the text of this book as did Ami Bouhassane, Madelief Hohé, Hripsimé Visser, Julie Summers, Robin Muir, Lisa Hostetler and Hilary Roberts.
As the title of the book suggests Lee Miller’s life was chronicled year by year in print and the book contains magazine spreads, covers and adverts from her early days as a model as well as photos of and by over more than half a century.There is also a brief history of photography and how eventually it became possible to reproduce photos on the printed page.
We are taken through Miller’s development as a photographer with her early fashion shots, often for Vogue, through the war years when she, in army uniform, was with the advancing American troops as they liberated Dachau concentration camp near Munich. With a true reporter’s conscientiousness she did not shy away from photographing the horrors that were discovered there. In 1945, just a few days before the war finished, Lee and fellow photographer David E. Scherman blagged their way into Hitler’s Munich apartment in Prinzregentenplatz where she was famously photographed taking a bath in the Führer’s tub. This was on the 30th April, the same day the Nazi leader took his own life in his bunker in Berlin.
In later years she settled into a more tranquil life as Lady Penrose with her husband Sir Roland at Farley Farm in East Sussex in the south of England, becoming a gourmet cook and writer. For fifty years, since she was nineteen, pictures of or by Lee Miller were never out of the public eye. Thanks to the efforts of her son, this book and many others like it, this will remain so.
Lee Miller may not be familiar to everyone but she is just about to become a lot more famous due to the forthcoming bio-pic starring Kate Winslet. Michael Hasted 23rd November 2023
The exhibition on Lee Miller continues at The Depot in Rotterdam until 18th February 2024.
Lee Miller in Print
Publisher: Boijmans Van Beuningen, Museum 8th November 2023
Language: English (or Dutch)
Paperback : 248 pages
Dimensions: 23.5 x 2.6 x 29.2 cm