PENROSE, Sir Roland (1900-1984) & MILLER, Lee (1907-1977)
Plaque erected in 2003 by English Heritage at 21 Downshire Hill, Hampstead, London, NW3 1NT, London Borough of Camden
Photographer, Artist, Surrealist
Applied Arts, Fine Arts
LEE MILLER 1907-1977 Photographer and Sir ROLAND PENROSE 1900-1984 Surrealist lived here
Photographer Lee Miller and her husband, the painter and art patron Sir Roland Penrose, were highly influential in promoting Surrealism and International Modernism in Britain. Miller is most famous, however, for her photojournalism during the Second World War.
New York-born Miller started her career as a model at the age of 20. In 1929 she went to Paris, where her role as Man Ray's pupil, lover and muse led her to develop her own interest in photography. Miller’s best-known work remains her reportage for Vogue: between 1942 and 1946 her coverage included the siege of St Malo, Hitler’s private apartments and the liberation of Paris. Her images of the Dachau concentration camp were among the most famous – and hardest hitting – of the 20th century.
Miller had been involved in the Surrealist movement for some years before meeting Roland Penrose in 1937. Penrose was a painter, art patron, friend of Picasso and, in 1947, became the founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. He was a significant figure in the avant-garde British art scene, with exceptional contacts in Paris. Penrose formed the British Surrealist Group in 1935 and the following year he moved to 21 Downshire Hill, Hampstead, from where he organised the International Surrealist Exhibition in London.
Miller joined Penrose at Downshire Hill in 1939 and the couple remained there until 1947. Number 21 is one of a pair of attractive, grade II listed, early 19th-century terraced houses and is close to Hampstead Heath. It was from this house that Miller undertook her Vogue assignments and travelled to Europe to photograph the war, while Penrose caused some controversy by placing Henry Moore’s ‘Mother and Child’ in front of the property in 1938.
They were noted for their hospitality, and during their time at number 21 the house was a gathering point for artists, politicians and journalists: Man Ray and André Breton were both regular visitors. In 1947, the year of their marriage, they moved briefly to 36 Downshire Hill before shifting their base in 1949 to Farley Farm in East Sussex, their home for the rest of their lives. The plaque was unveiled in 2003 by their son, Antony Penrose, and the playwright Sir David Hare.