Archive for September, 2008

Lee Miller – and Hester As Picasso’s Muse

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing a performance of The Angel and The Fiend, Antony Penrose’s dramatised reading about the life of his mother, Lee Miller. Penrose plays himself, while his daughter played Miller, and accompanying the ensemble piece was a remarkable visual presentation: photos by Miller and of her, documents and paintings, much of it part of the papers which Penrose discovered in the attic of the family’s East Sussex house after his mother’s death, when he learned for the first time just how remarkable her life’s achievements had been.

Lee Miller has always been an inspirational figure to me, and I was particularly taken with Picasso’s cubist portrait of her, which Penrose says he allegedly greeted with a delighted ‘Mama!’ when he first saw it as an infant, adding that he may have been crying out in fright at the splintered image rather than in recognition!


Many who were drawn to the legend of Lady Hester Stanhope in later generations found the fact that she appeared to lead a man’s life in a woman’s body to be a potently sensual combination. As an adolescent growing up for a brief time in Corunna, Picasso had stumbled on the grave of the man who might have married her, Sir John Moore. Devouring one of the early biographies about her, he read that even as blood welled up in his mouth, the brave man had choked out her name. In Paris, Picasso told his friend, the photographer Lee Miller, that he found the idea of Hester Stanhope exciting and erotic, that she had been “the very model of the free woman.” According to Miller, “he had been enthralled about by books of her adventures and life with the Bedouin, but instead of wanting to follow her footsteps in the desert, he dreamed of meeting in England someone like her.” In fact, Picasso often remarked upon what he saw as the striking similarities in the Englishwoman’s character and charisma to that of the iconic Miller, beautifully photogenic and adventurous herself, for the journeys she had made into the Egyptian desert – and especially to remote Siwa – on photographic expeditions, just before the Second World War broke out.

I urge anyone with an interest in the life and work of Lee Miller – fashion model, Surrealist muse, photographer, war correspondent and gourmet cook – to make the trip to West Dean, near Chichester, to see Lee Miller: Coinage of the Mind, from 13 September – 2 November at the Sussex Barn Gallery, West Dean College.

Posted on September 15th, 2008 by Kirsten  |  No Comments »

Great Lives about Lady Hester Stanhope on BBC Radio 4 – broadcast details

The edition of Great Lives about Lady Hester will be broadcast on Tuesday 23 September 2008 at 16.30 on BBC Radio 4 and repeated at 23.00 on Friday 26 September 2008.

If you don’t manage to catch the programme live, you should be able to listen at your leisure via the Radio 4 “Listen Again” facility after the initial broadcast.

Check the BBC Radio 4 wesbite for full details.

Posted on September 1st, 2008 by Kirsten  |  No Comments »

Listen to Kirsten Ellis on BBC Radio Scotland

Kirsten Ellis will be discussing her book on BBC Radio Scotland (FM only) -
Listen here
Radio Cafe: Provocative discussions, inspiring guests and news about trends, fashion, music, theatre and art.
3 Sep 2008 13:15 -14:00

Posted on September 1st, 2008 by Kirsten  |  No Comments »