For 25 years Antony Penrose was estranged from his mother.  Lee Miller suffered from what’s now known as post-traumatic stress disorder. Her harrowing experiences as Vogue’s war correspondent- photojournalist during World War II took its toll.  She felt her artistic talent was worthless. She became increasingly depressed and turned into a drunkard.

“By the time she died she had buried her career, quite deliberately,” Antony Penrose, her only child, said yesterday. “It was only by accident after her death that we found all the images, thousands of them, that she had hidden around the house. She always claimed she had destroyed them. They were a revelation to me and to my father.”  — The Guardian April 22, 2007.

As mentioned on the previous post, Penrose wrote several biographies and memoirs. His first biography was The Lives of Lee Miller (Thames and Hudson 1988), written with much help from David E Scherman, a Life photojournalist who had been Lee’s  associate (and lover) during the war.

Self-portrait in headband, Lee Miller 1932

Self-portrait in headband, Lee Miller 1932

Penrose grew up and still lives at the Farley Farm House in Sussex. It’s a dairy farm. He practically was raised by the housekeeper. When he was a little boy, his parents and flocks of their famous guests would descend periodically to the farm house in a whirl of excitement and then vanish.

Penrose wrote a charming children’s book about his friendship with Picasso when he visited in 1950 called “The boy who bit Picasso” (2010). Here is text to the pages shown below:

When Picasso first met my mother he thought she was so beautiful he painted her picture. My friends were very rude about the painting. They thought she looked so ugly she was scary! But actually it was a very good painting.

I discovered that if I took a PHOTO of my mother and drew around her face, my drawing fitted Picasso’s painting exactly — except for her chin. That’s because in Picasso’s picture she has a huge toothy grin.

From The Boy Who Bit Picasso  by Antony Penrose 2010

From The Boy Who Bit Picasso by Antony Penrose 2010

Picasso’s picture is one of six versions of “Lee Miller as Arlesienne” he painted during the summer he spent with Miller and Roland Penrose in 1937 in Mougins, not far from Cannes. The photo Antony refers to is a 1932 Lee Miller self-portrait, though the image is reversed.

I don’t know how Picasso (almost) perfectly rendered her profile unless he traced her portrait on a mirror. The Arlesienne’s right eye is facing in the original direction (looking back?) so I guess that’s supposed to be some kind of clue. 


ASIDE: I think Picasso stole the idea of six portraits of Lee Miller as Arlesienne from van Gogh. He had painted six portraits of Madame Ginoux titled L’Arlésienne when he stayed at Café de la Gare in Arles in 1888. She is landlord’s wife.