Lee Miller: Surrealist Muse

Lee Miller, Surrealist muse, photographed by Man Ray, Paris ca. 1930

Lee Miller, Surrealist muse, photographed by Man Ray, Paris ca. 1930 [Source: NYT]

Janine Di Giovanni encapsulates the Surrealist stretch of Miller’s life in a New York Times T magazine feature:

Born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 1907, Miller fled her conventional life — and a rather odd father who took photographs of her naked — to model in Manhattan. She was discovered by Condé Nast, but when a portrait of her taken by Edward Steichen was used as a Kotex ad, she ran away to Paris. She was a pupil of Man Ray, who did not take apprentices, but as she told it, she marched into his studio and announced, “I’m your new student.” Over the course of four years, they developed the technique of solarization, and Man Ray became obsessed with her.

She became a muse for the Surrealists, a lover of Picasso and a buddy of Paul Ãluard, Jean Cocteau and others. She played the female lead, a statue, in Cocteau’s film “The Blood of a Poet,” which caused a jealous feud with Man Ray.

Eventually, Miller grew bored of Paris, the parties, the pretty frocks and the promiscuity, and wed an elegant Egyptian, Aziz Eloui Bey. She tried to live a sedate life with him in Cairo. She picked up her camera and photographed the pyramids; did portraits of “the black-satin-and-pearls set,” and most notably took the photo of the desert near Siwa that Magritte saw and used as inspiration for his 1938 painting “Le Baiser.”

But “boredom was starting to creep into her life,” [her son Anthony] Penrose writes. So she bolted for London.

When the war broke out, she was on a ship headed for England. Though women were not technically allowed to be at the front, Miller was British Vogue’s sole accredited correspondent, and she did what she wanted. Besides, as Penrose points out, what soldier could have resisted her?

See Lee Miller: War Photographer and The Lives of Lee Miller.

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