‘Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain’
“Gathered together in the second room of The Hepworth Wakefield’s excellent new show “Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain,” in West Yorkshire, is a selection of candid snaps both Miller and Man Ray took during their Cornish adventure,” writes Lucy Scholes. “Most arresting is Miller’s photograph of an all-but-nude Carrington reclining in the sun, eyes closed, a smoldering cigarette clutched between the fingers of her left hand, with Ernst sitting behind her, his veiny hands clasped over his lover’s bare breasts, his head resting lovingly on hers, one half of his face hidden in a cushion of her thick, curly dark hair.
“This sudden Surrealist invasion is integral to the story told in the Hepworth exhibition. It’s the beginning both of Miller’s engagement with British Surrealism, and of the life she and Penrose went on to build together. After her divorce from Bey, the couple eventually married in 1947, the same year their son Antony was born, after which they lived in East Sussex. Their house and gardens at Farley Farm became, and remain to this day, an unofficial gallery space for their work and that of their friends. Images taken there evoke the same carefree, communal living as seen in Cornwall, an existence in which extraordinary art—both in its making and its display—and everyday life are seamlessly intertwined. Miller’s 1953 photograph shows Henry Moore cheekily hugging his Mother and Child sculpture on the lawn; and in the image just next to it in the exhibition, Antony Penrose and Moore’s daughter Mary play together on the grass in front of Mary’s father’s work.
“Vitrines in the center of the room displaying various issues of Vogue from this period bring to mind the artistry of Miller’s elegant fashion photo shoots, juxtaposed with her images of the all-too-real hellscapes of Europe. That she moved so effortlessly between two such contrasting subjects demonstrates the impressive range of her vision. When it comes to the latter, although there’s no attempt to disguise the horror of what she sees, her Surrealist eye makes her the perfect observer, both of the banality of evil evoked in her carefully composed bathtub image, and the utter senselessness of the destruction all around her: her description of houses “crushed like hardboiled eggshells” in her report from Berchtesgaden and Munich “Hitleriana,” is more evocative than many of the more straightforward eyewitness accounts. Then again, that’s exactly what this endlessly fascinating exhibition reveals—that Miller was a woman who saw things differently.”
For more information, visit hepworthwakefield.org.
Wakefield, West Yorkshire