Judith Thurman on Lee Miller

Tom mentioned a Lee Miller profile in this week’s New Yorker. It’s written by Judith Thurman, author of Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette. The full text isn’t available yet on the New Yorker web site, but here is the abstract:

Judith Thurman, A Critic at Large, “The Roving Eye,” The New Yorker, January 21, 2008, p. 61 January 21, 2023 Issue

A CRITIC AT LARGE about American model and photographer Lee Miller. Lee Miller was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, a century ago, but spent most of her life seeking adventure in Europe and the Middle East. Last September, a retrospective of her work in front of and behind the camera, “The Art of Lee Miller,” curated by Mark Haworth-Booth, opened at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London. Mentions the show’s companion volume (Yale; $60), by Haworth-Booth. Describes an event, in 1940, when the rich and eccentric British Surrealist Roland Penrose asked Miller, his mistress, to model, so he could test a camouflage ointment. That afternoon, the American photojournalist Dave Scherman captured the scene. Discusses nude photos Miller’s father took of her two weeks before her eighth birthday. Antony Penrose revealed in “The Lives of Lee Miller” (1985), an illustrated biography of his mother, that at the age of seven, she had been raped, ostensibly by a family friend, and infected with gonorrhea. At eighteen, on a trip to Paris, Miller enrolled in a course on stage design taught by the Hungarian artist Ladislas Medgyes. Mentions Miller’s role in Jean Cocteau’s film “The Blood of a Poet.” By 1926, Miller had moved to Manhattan, and a chance meeting with Condé Nast led to an interview with Edna Chase, Vogue’s editor-in-chief. Miller made her debut in Vogue on the March, 1927, cover. In 1929, Miller sailed to Europe, where she apprenticed with Man Ray, a leader of the avant-garde and a master of many genres. Man Ray was thirty-nine and Miller was twenty-two when they met. Mentions Miller’s portraits of Charlie Chaplin and Picasso. Miller and Man Ray spent three stormy years together, then she returned to New York, where she found rich backers for the Lee Miller Studio, which was ultimately an abortive venture. In May, 1933, Miller was named by Vanity Fair as one of the seven “most distinguished living photographers.” She stunned family and friends by marrying Aziz Eloui Bey, an Egyptian railroad magnate in his forties. She moved to Egypt with him. In 1937, at thirty, she returned to Paris, where she met Roland Penrose. In 1941, Miller, working for British Vogue, was accredited as a war correspondent. Describes Miller’s photojournalism during the war, and mentions Dave Scherman’s photo of her nude in a bathtub in Hitler’s private apartment. Miller died, at seventy, of lung cancer. Recounts the latter part of her life, when she and Penrose lived on a farm in Sussex and she found a creative outlet in gastronomy. Mentions Picasso’s Portrait of Lee Miller as L’Arlesienne (1937).

New Yorker online has a slide show of photographs of and by Lee Miller. Man Ray’s La Révolution Surréaliste (1930) launches the show. You’ve seen most of the other images elsewhere.

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