On a beautiful late summer’s day, Kathy and I took a trip into Edinburgh for the Festival. In amongst the street theatre and the flyer vendors, I came across a poster for an exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Lee Miller & Picasso. At first I was disappointed that it wasn’t solely a Picasso exhibition, I would love to see one of those, however this is a wonderful exhibition with over one hundred pictures by Miller; a portrait of her, by Picasso, and one of his large drawings. Not much of the festival or the fringe interested me this year, as usual I went looking for Shakespeare, not comedy Shakespeare or a sketch show based on as many characters from his plays as could fit on a stage, hilarious as the flyer person said it was, just didn’t capture my imagination. No matter where it is, whether it is during the Festival, an exhibition or not, walking into an art gallery, is always an exciting pleasure for me and I was not disappointed with this one, this exhibition.
Lee Miller first met Pablo Picasso in the South of France in the summer of 1937. She took over 1,000 pictures of the Spanish artist and he painted her portrait six times. The photos are spread out over four or five rooms and really bring the artist to life, with his incredible eyes and his sense of fun. To be in his company must have been a joy. I’ve never looked at Picasso so closely before but, now when I read about him, everyone talks about his eyes and his flamboyant lifestyle, with his studio filled with guests watching him work. Among them was Roland Penrose, a British artist and champion of Surrealism who was travelling with Miller when they met Picasso. Penrose is featured in a lot of the photos, they eventually got married, after divorcing other people and she became Lady Penrose. There are many shots of Picasso in his studio, with paintings, you half recognise, all around the walls. There is a great little section of the painter with his old friend and early cubism partner, Georges Braque; they both have amazing, piercing eyes as they gaze at the camera lens. As you stroll through the rooms you feel as if you are getting to know the painter more and more; with family and friends, surrounding him on holiday or at his studio. He was a little barrel chest, powerful looking man; somehow, I think he looks like a genius.
The exhibition also looks at the life of Lee Miller. She was a beautiful woman and you can understand why Picasso painted her portrait so many times, although the one hung at the gallery is a very abstract painting. It was a great thrill to get so close to it, where you see the brush strokes so clearly, you can see strands of hair just underneath the paint, I stared at it for a long time. The lines of her mouth you can see were done by two single curving brush strokes; you can see where he put the brush on the canvas and just swiped it round like the curves of a moustache with the paint tailing off in thinning dots. In her early life, Miller was a successful fashion model before moving to Paris and becoming a photographer. During the Second World War she worked for Vogue magazine as a war correspondent. There is a great photo of her dressed up like a GI, surrounded by soldiers in amongst the ruined buildings of war.
The exhibition finishes on the 6th of September, a few days to go. Maybe it’ll tour, if it does, I urge you to seek it out.
Thanks to Wikipedia for refreshing my memory of Lee Millers early career, there is a lot of information online about her and a few books. She was an extraordinary woman and worth more study, I am so glad I saw this exhibition.