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Exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield explores Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain
Paul Nash, Event on the Downs, 1934. Government Art Collection, © Crown.

WAKEFIELD.- Lee Miller (1907 – 1977) was one of the most original photographic artists of the 20th century, whose work spanned the fields of fashion, photojournalism and art. Arriving in Paris in 1929 Miller became Man Ray’s apprentice, muse and collaborator and quickly became part of the Surrealist network, creating striking and experimental surrealist photographs.

Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain will be the first exhibition to explore Miller’s involvement with the surrealist circles in Britain, where the movement burgeoned in the late 1930s. London became the destination for many artists leaving increasingly troubling political situations on the continent in the immediate post-war period, and for a brief but intense time, Britain was a Surrealist centre.

The exhibition tells the story of Surrealism in Britain through Miller’s lens, focussing on the artists she knew, photographed, and exhibited alongside. It features sculptures, paintings, photographs, collages and works on paper by artists including Eileen Agar, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, René Magritte, and Henry Moore alongside Miller’s photographs to explore the creative networks and productive collisions during this exciting time.

Miller – along with her later-husband Roland Penrose – played a significant role in the British Surrealist movement of the 1930s. In 1936 Penrose put together an organising committee for the first International Surrealism Exhibition in London, held at New Burlington Gardens and seen by over 23,000 people. A number of works from this exhibition are being presented at The Hepworth Wakefield, including Max Ernst's Joie de Vivre , Eileen Agar's Quadriga and Penrose’s Voyage of Captain Cook. A lithograph by Man Ray of the painting he exhibited depicting Lee Miller’s lips floating in the sky, A l'Heure de l'Observatoire - Les Amoureux, is also being shown .

In 1937 Penrose invited a number of artists and writers to a ‘sudden Surrealist invasion’ of Cornwall. Miller and Man Ray’s photographs documenting Penrose, Paul and Nusch Éluard, Leonora Carrington, Max Ernst and ELT Mesens during this creative adventure are being displayed alongside artworks that highlight the shared motifs and creative dialogue between these artists. These include several works by both Miller and Agar from 1937, the year in which they first met, that adopt the female profile as a central visual element. Exhibitions held in Britain in the late 30s and early 40s that included Miller’s work alongside noted Surrealists such as Dali, Magritte and Yves Tanguy have also been brought to light.

During World War II, Miller was employed by British Vogue as a freelance war correspondent. Working with the likes of David E. Scherman, Miller captured thought-provoking images of Hitler’s secret apartments and the harrowing atrocities of wartime living with her particular surrealist eye. A selection of these photographs including Lee Miller in Hitler’s Bathtub (1945) are being displayed, alongside her unique surrealist take on fashion and commercial photography from the same period.

After the war, Miller settled with husband Roland Penrose at ‘Farleys’ on Farley Farm in Sussex, continuing her practice as a photographer. They also continued their role as catalysts in bringing together surrealist artists. A series of humorous photographs of artists including Max Ernst, Henry Moore and Dorothea Tanning put to ‘work’ at Farley Farm was Miller’s last big photographic feature published in Vogue, titled ‘Working Guests’ 1953.

Simon Wallis, Director of The Hepworth Wakefield, said: ‘This major exhibition will shine a light on an exciting cultural moment in Britain that is little known, while also exploring Lee Miller’s work as an artist. It will be exciting to see this exhibition alongside our mid-career retrospective of photographer Viviane Sassen, who can perhaps be viewed as the modern day Lee Miller.’

Ami Bouhassane, Registrar and Trustee of the Lee Miller Archives, said: ‘It’s been a great pleasure to collaborate with the Hepworth, the scholarship they have brought to this exhibition has further widened the horizon and understanding of Lee’s work and will make this show the highlight of our year.’

A publication, Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain, has been produced to accompany the exhibition. It is edited by curator, Eleanor Clayton and published by Lund Humphries with support from the Paul Mellon Centre. Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain runs alongside Viviane Sassen: Hot Mirror at The Hepworth Wakefield until 7 October 2018.

Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain will tour to the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona 31 October 2018 – 20 January 2019.

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