Lee Miller abandoned her highly successful New York photo studio in 1934 to marry Aziz Eloui Bey, a wealthy Egyptian businessman who had come to New York to buy equipment for Egyptian Railways.
She moved to Cairo. She was no longer a professional photographer so roamed the desert to take, as I’ve read elsewhere, some of her most striking surrealist images. But she grew bored with her life in Cairo by 1937 and went to Paris. Eloi thought it to be an extended visit but it didn’t turn out to be that way.
She met Sir Roland Penrose, a British surrealist painter, art financier, historian, and future husband. I assume she met him through her friend Pablo Picasso. Penrose was an early collector and avid supporter of Picasso. He supported Max Ernst and Man Ray “before they were anyone.”
This may be why Lee Miller and Man Ray reconciled their heretofore lover’s feud five years after she left him.
Antony Penrose wrote a biography of his father (and several on his mother) that was reviewed by the New York Times over a decade ago (see below.) My best take-away line to describe Penrose:
“He had four gifts: money, enthusiasm, eccentricity and an excellent eye; and he was generous with all of them.”
Lee Miller composed the above “Portrait of Space” just before she left Aziz Eloui Bey for Paris. Above the torn mesh is a bold frame with a wisp of cirrus cloud in a clear sky. Did the photographer tear through the mesh to see what lay beyond the ridge across the sands? Was this an inner expression of escaping entrapment or an explanation for her impending departure?
Eloi and Miller divorced amicably 10 years later when she discovered she was pregnant with the soon-to-be Antony. She married Roland Penrose in 1947.
A look into the aristocratically bohemian world of Roland Penrose:
by Andrew Solomon for the New York Times
The Friendly Surrealist: A Memoir.
By Antony Penrose.
Illustrated. 192 pp.