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Humphrey Jennings

© Lee Miller Archives, England 2019. All rights reserved.

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Humphrey Jennings

by Lee Miller
gelatin silver print, 1942
15 3/8 in. x 14 5/8 in. (390 mm x 371 mm)
Purchased, 1980
Primary Collection
NPG P156

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Lee Miller (1907-1977), Photographer. Artist associated with 17 portraits, Sitter in 13 portraits.

This portraitback to top

In this surreal portrait, writer, painter and documentary film-maker Jennings appears near an implausible-looking cloud of cigarette smoke, which seems to be coming out of his mouth, even though no cigarette is seen. The cloud resembles a human head, like a ghostly figure looking back at him. Miller made this photograph of Jennings for Vogue magazine in 1942, but their friendship predated the war, both being associated with the British Surrealist group. By 1932, following a romantic relationship with Man Ray, Miller returned to New York to establish her own studio and later moved to London to live with the artist, historian and poet Roland Penrose.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Photographs, 2018, p. 73 Read entry

    In this surreal portrait, the writer, painter and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings (1907-50) appears near an implausible-looking cloud of cigarette smoke, which seems to be coming out of his mouth, even though no cigarette is seen. The cloud resembles a human head, like a ghostly figure looking back at him. Lee Miller (1907-77) made this photograph for Vogue magazine in 1942, but her friendship with Jennings predated the Second World War, their having been associated with the British Surrealist group. By 1932, after Miller’s artistic and romantic relationship with Man Ray had run its course, she returned to her native New York to establish her own studio, and later moved to London to live with the Surrealist artist, historian and poet Roland Penrose.

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 241 Read entry

    One who 'survived the theatre and English literature at Cambridge', Jennings seems very much the 1930s intellectual dilettante, dabbling in poetry, radical politics, theatre design and painting. In 1936, with Roland Penrose and André Breton, he set up the International Surrealist Exhibition in London, and in the following year helped to found Mass Observation, an organization dedicated to exploring the unconscious collective life of England, researching such subjects as the 'shouts and gestures of motorists' and the 'anthropology of football pools'. But it is as a maker of short documentary films that he is best remembered, first working for the GPO Film Unit in the early 1930s, and later the Crown Film Unit. The war acted as a catalyst on his talent, and in films such as London Can Take It (1940), Listen to Britain (1942), A Diary for Timothy (1944-5), but above all Fires Were Started (1943), he evolved a symbolic film language which was both popular and extraordinarily powerful.

    The beautiful American Lee Miller came to London in 1937 with an impeccable pedigree. In New York she had modelled for Steichen; in Paris she was the assistant and mistress of Man Ray, and modelled for Hoyningen-Huene and Horst; with her brother she had her own photographic studio in New York, numbering among its clients Vogue, Helena Rubenstein and Saks of Fifth Avenue. Between 1940 and 1945 she was head of Vogue's London studio, and took many of her most distinguished photographs as its war correspondent in France, Germany and Russia. In 1947 she married the painter and art critic Roland Penrose.

    This portrait, which appeared in Vogue in 1942 is a typically sophisticated arrangement of light and shade, of velvety textures, all treated with a cool sensuousness.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 336

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Subject/Themeback to top

Events of 1942back to top

Current affairs

The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief is founded in Oxford with the aim of sending food through the Allied blockade of Nazi-Occupied Greece. The organisation continued after the war to relieve suffering as a result of the war in Europe, and eventually to help distressed peoples internationally. It gradually became known as Oxfam, after its telegraph address, and is now one of the largest international development and aid agencies.

Art and science

Desert Island Discs is broadcast for the first time. Each week a famous guest is invited to select which eight pieces of music they would choose to take if they were castaway on an island. The show is still going and is the longest running music programme on radio.
Enid Blyton publishes her first Famous Five children's book: Five On A Treasure Island.


The Allied forces sign the 'Declaration by United Nations', pledging the signatories to fight together until the end of the war and establishing an international organisation with the aim of upholding world peace and security with Sir Gladwyn Jebb as the first Secretary General.
In Berlin, senior Nazis plan the 'Final Solution' to exterminate European Jews, and start building death camps to carry it out.

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