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Lee Miller

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

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Lee Miller

by Lee Miller
modern archival-toned gelatin silver print from original negative, 1939
7 7/8 in. x 9 3/4 in. (200 mm x 247 mm)
Purchased, 2001
Primary Collection
NPG P873

Sitterback to top

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

Artistback to top

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

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Rideal, Liz, Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by Women Artists, 2001 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 September 2001 to 20 January 2002), p. 77 Read entry

    'Discovered' in 1927 by Condé Nast, Lee Miller became a model for American Vogue and posed for their staff photographer Edward Steichen (1879-1973) and for George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-68). However, she quickly became bored with being in front of the camera and she decided to move to Paris to learn the art of photography herself from Man Ray. In 1929 she became his student, collaborator, lover and muse, and it was at this time that by accident they discovered the process of solorisation, a particular method of combining a positive and negative image simultaneously. Man Ray produced his famous image of her floating lips, Observatory Time - The Lovers (1934), when she terminated their relationship to marry an Egyptian, Aziz Eloui, only later to begin an affair with the painter and writer Roland Penrose, who was to become her second husband. In January 1940 she became a staff photographer for Vogue in London, and was paid £8 per week. In 1941 she was appointed a US war correspondent, documenting the liberation of Paris and scenes from Dachau. (Doris Zinkeisen was also in Belsen painting as part of a commission by the War Artists Advisory Committee in April 1945.)

    Prior to marrying Penrose in 1947, Miller wrote to him announcing that she was pregnant. 'Let me know how you feel about being a parent - sure you want it? And why? There is only one thing - MY WORK ROOM IS NOT GOING TO BE A NURSERY. How about your studio? HA. HA.' (Quoted in A. Penrose, The Lives of Lee Miller, 1988, p.183.) She continued to take photographs, notably of the guests visiting their new home, Fancy Farm in Sussex (now the home of the Lee Miller Archive) - these luminaries included Georges Braque (1882-1963), Max Ernst (1891-1976), Joan Miró (1893-1983), Picasso and Paul Éluard. This photograph was taken whilst Miller was working for Vogue in 1939; the curious sphinxes, a mixture of Egyptian sculpture fused with beaux arts figures, also appear in other fashion work she shot at the time.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1939back to top

Current affairs

Britain goes to war. The German invasion of Poland demonstrated that the policy of appeasement had failed. After refusing to meet Britain's ultimatum to withdraw troops, Britain and France declared war on Germany. The Second World War had begun.

Art and science

The Sutton Hoo burial ship is discovered. Apparently following a dream, Mrs Pretty invited the archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate a series of burial mounds on her estate on the banks of the river Deben in Suffolk. The excavation revealed an Anglo-Saxon burial, uncovering the most significant horde of early medieval artefacts found in Britain (now housed at the British Museum).


The Second World War begins. Germany's invasion of Poland prompted Britain and France to declare war forming the core of the Allied powers. As part of the Soviet-Nazi Pact, the Soviet Union joined the war on the German side, helping, with Italy, to form the Axis Powers. Poland was soon overpowered and the Baltic Republics and Finland were invaded by the Soviet Union.

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