Photographer Lee Miller – An amazing life

Today we bring you the story of American-born photographer, artist and model, Lee Miller. Like other artists we have featured on the Blog, you sometimes wonder how one person managed to pack so much “living” into just one life, and Lee Miller is no exception. There is so much to say about her and it is well told by I will provide the link below after my own brief summary, which is a lead into telling you of a remarkable exhibition at Heide Museum, in Bulleen, Melbourne, curated by her son, Antony Penrose.

Born in April 1907, Lee struggled to find her niche at school, being volatile and independent, even though she was obviously intelligent and creative. Her father was an amateur photographer with his Kodak Box Brownie camera and introduced her to the rudiments of the craft.

She was very beautiful as well as bright, but was exploited by her father taking inappropriate photos of her, and ran away to Paris. She studied lighting and theatre set design there, and met a number of influential people there, including Picasso, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali and Maz Ernst, but most importantly Man Ray, himself a Surrealist artist and photographer. She lived with him for three years as his student, muse and lover, and was photographed herself as a fashion model for magazines such as Vogue, which exposed her to many creative and influential people.

She was strong and independent and always up for a challenge, and did not shy away from the opportunity to capture the confronting events in World War Two, in Normandy, London and the liberation of concentration camps as one of the first female war journalists “on the ground.” She was passionate about creating an historical record of the times.

Lee Miller, in uniform as a World War II war correspondent in 1943. Credit: US Army Official photo, available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Her photographs span the glamour of famous people and the fashion industry, as well as the reality of the horrors of World War II and the devastation of it all.

Examples of her photographs can be seen here:

Lee Miller - 20 artworks - photography

After her first marriage in 1934, Lee lived in Cairo and photographed the pyramids and unique way of life there. The marriage did not last after Lee met the British Surrealist artist Roland Penrose in 1937, and they married in 1947. At age 40, (in 1947), she had a son named Antony Penrose, and two years later, they moved to Farley Farm in East Sussex, England. In the early 1950’s, Miller gave up photography professionally and became a Cordon Bleu chef instead.
She and Roland used to host artists and writers at their home on the farm regularly, and Lee would photograph them casually.

But the really remarkable thing is that her son knew nothing about his mother’s extraordinary life previously, both personally and professionally, until he and his wife found over 60,000 of her negatives up in the attic, after she died of cancer on 21st of July 1977 at home on Farely Farm. From the 1980s onwards, Antony and his wife began collating , archiving and promoting her work, which had been largely forgotten by the art world. Through his efforts, she became the subject of several exhibitions, biographies, and monographs. In addition, Lee, a film about her life starring Kate Winslet, was released in 2023 1 and is based on the book by Antony Penrose called "The Lives of Lee Miller."

Isn’t that an extraordinary story? And there is a real treat for readers who live in Melbourne or Victoria, as there is an exhibition of 100 of Lee Miller’s photographs at the Heide Museum of Art in Bulleen, Melbourne, curated by her son, Antony Penrose. It is open until the 25th of February 2024 and I am sure it would be well worth a visit, if you are able to go.

In the meantime, here is a link to the Heide Gallery web page. At the bottom of the web page is a 2 minute video, which is a brief walk-through the exhibition.

Surrealist Lee Miller - Heide

Also, I recommend you read the biography to really appreciate her life and talent.....

Lee Miller | Biography, Photography, & Facts
Lee Miller, American photographer, Surrealist artist, and model who might have been known primarily as the muse and lover of the Surrealist artist Man Ray had her son not discovered and promoted her exceptional work as a fashion and war photographer and recovered her reputation as an artist in her o…


  1. With thanks to

There is also a website for the Foundation that has been established in her name,