Lee Miller – Man Ray: Fashion, Love, War
Palazzo Franchetti, Venice
November 05, 2022 – April 10, 2023
Model, photographer, muse, the first female war correspondent to report the horrors of the concentration camps liberated by American troops, and a twentieth-century icon. Lee Miller was all this and much more. She went through life with passion and determination and life repaid her with love and friends, but also with pain and posthumous, or at least tardy, acknowledgement. An exhibition will now do justice to this woman as beautiful as she was clever and talented, taking her out of Man Ray’s overpowering shadow, to reveal a deep but complicated relationship more objectively: Man Ray, first her teacher, then lover, and in the end friend. The exhibition Lee Miller – Man Ray. Fashion, love, war is curated by Victoria Noel-Johnson and produced and organised by CMS. Cultura in collaboration with ACP-Palazzo Franchetti, with the patronage of Venice Municipality, which has included it in its events for “Le città in Festa”, main sponsor Gruppo Unipol, and presents approximately 140 photographs by Lee Miller and Man Ray, a collection of objets d’art and video documents, loaned by Lee Miller Archives and Fondazione Marconi. In the exclusive prestigious venue of Palazzo Franchetti, Venice, from 5 November to 10 April 2023, visitors will, at last, have the opportunity to fully appreciate the qualities of this important photographer, and her contribution to photography, not only as Man Ray’s muse, but above all as a professional in her own right. Indeed, many often forget that she was the one who quite by chance discovered the solarisation technique and inspired Man Ray to use it as his artistic signature, for which he became famous.
This event therefore sets out to pay suitable homage to Lee Miller, pioneer of surrealism in photography, placing her on a par with Man Ray, whose work tended to overshadow her both during her lifetime and after. The exhibition opens with a diptych by Lee Miller and Man Ray (Man Ray, self-portrait, 1931 and Man Ray, Lee Miller, 1929) and continues in chronological order by theme. The first section is dedicated to Lee Miller as model and muse in the Twenties, when she incidentally met the famous publisher Condé Nast, who was instrumental in her becoming a model for ‘Vogue’. Georges Lepape, the main fashion illustrator of the time, depicted her face for a ‘Vogue’ (USA) cover in 1927 launching her as a style icon, which she remained until the notorious shot used without her knowledge to advertise Kotex sanitary towels, considered scandalous at the time. Partly for this reason, she decided to leave New York and return to Paris to cultivate her passion for photography.
In Paris Miller worked with George Hoyningen-Huené, the famous ‘Vogue’ (France) photographer, who revealed her androgynous grace by photographing her dressed in a tracksuit and sneakers, worn as if she were sporting an evening gown, and in the famous The Divers, one of the twentieth century’s most iconic fashion shots, chosen by Anna Wintour as one of her five favourites in the long history of ‘Vogue’, where Lee Miller poses with her back to the camera on a wharf with Horst P. Horst, another legendary photographer. Lee avidly took up every suggestion and provocation from the artistic and cultural background of the time before meeting Man Ray in 1929, in the Parisian avant-garde of the nineteen twenties that gathered and launched some of the biggest names in the history of art. At the heart of the exhibition lies the relationship between Lee Miller and Man Ray, which blossomed in Paris in 1929 and ended in 1932. The focus is on their lives, careers and relationships at that time. In this way the visitor will be able to understand the effect they both had on each other and how it inspired their work, including the photographic solarisation technique Man Ray adopted to the point that shots by Miller were erroneously attributed to Ray. The exhibition will also display portraits by Man Ray of friends and important protagonists of the artistic period: Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalì and surrealist shots of Lee Miller in which he seeks to investigate and reveal her soul and torments, using the camera as an instrument with which to almost break up her ethereal body by depicting just the nape of her neck, her neck, or her shoulders. There are also some unforgettable shots of his friends Dora Maar and Meret Oppenheim.
Again in 1930, the photograph The Neck dedicated to Lee Miller’s long, elegant neck, which Man Ray showed after one of their many rows as if slashed by a razor, and adorned with drops of red ink. That year Jean Cocteau involved Lee Miller in his surrealist work Le sang d’un poète, an extraordinary avant-garde film in which Lee, dusted with chalk powder, interprets a classically inspired statue, a modern goddess, the exhibition also examines the period after her love story with Ray, through a vast selection of photographic portraits and advertising shots, when Miller returned to New York in 1932 and opened a successful photographer’s studio, at the time the first to be established and run by a woman. Man Ray was blinded by the pain of being separated from Lee and in 1933 chose to replace the eye on the arm of his famous Perpetual Motif metronome with that of his lost lover.
This section highlights Lee Miller’s surrealist creations up to the well-known 1937 summer shots of ‘Surrealists on Holiday’, taken in Cornwall and the South of France with Max Ernst, E.L.T.Mesens Man Ray and Leonora Carrington, as well as Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar and Elieen Agar, and with the man who would become her second husband, the British surrealist artist Roland Penrose. Another section is dedicated to Egypt. In 1934 Lee Miller married Egyptian businessman Aziz Eloui Bey and went with him to his homeland, where she was fascinated by the desert landscape, the villages and traces of past civilisations. This is clear in many intriguing shots full of atmosphere, such as the famous Portrait of Space with its ripped tent or mosquito net opening onto the infinitive that inspired René Magritte to paint Le baiser (The Kiss) in 1938. However, the marriage was not to last long, partly due to Lee’s meeting Roland Penrose in Paris and her move to London, where she worked as a photographer for ‘Vogue’ (UK), and it is on the pages of this famous glossy magazine that she produced fashion and high society shots, using surrealist lighting and angles from her previous life and ties to Man Ray.
In conclusion, the drama of the Second World War, when Lee Miller was a war correspondent and photoreporter for ‘Vogue’. During the war she had to report tragic events like the London Blitz, the liberation of Paris and the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps. In 1944 she was accredited as a war correspondent for the American Army and worked with David E. Scherman, photographer for ‘Time Life’. This section not only displays the iconic shot of Lee Miller in Hitler’s bathtub, but also a broad selection of her surrealist works and photos of important artists and old friends, such as Picasso and Jean Cocteau, whom she met in Paris just after the end of the war. The leitmotiv of the exhibition is the relationship between Lee Miller and Man Ray and the evolution of their love into a friendship that lasted for almost 50 years, parallel with their mutual marriages to Aziz Eloui, Roland Penrose and Juliet Browner. Ray was particularly close to Miller when she suffered from her chronic depression, caused partly by a sort of post-traumatic disorder after seeing the horrors she had witnessed during WW II.
The catalogue, published by Skira, is edited by Victoria Noel-Johnson with texts by Ami Bouhassane (Miller’s grand-daughter) and Anthony Penrose (Miller’s son), who wish to use the Lee Miller Archives to disseminate her image. Suzanna, the late wife of Anthony Penrose, was going through things in the attic when she cameacross over 60,000 photographs, negatives, documents, magazines, correspondence and memorabilia that led to the discovery of Miller’s numerous lives. In the spring of 2023 the biopic ‘Lee’ will be released onto the cinema circuit. The screenplay is based on the biography by Anthony Penrose “The Lives of Lee Miller”;, dedicated to his mother on the 45th year from her death, with a star-studded cast: Kate Winslet stars as Miller and Jude Law portrays her husband Roland Penrose, while Marion Cotillard plays Solange D’Ayen, the fashion director of ‘Vogue’ France.