Lee Miller was born in Poughkeepsie, in the State of New York, on April 23rd in 1907, to Florence and Theodore, a brilliant and creative man, from whom Lee took her enthusiasm for technology and experimentation, the stubbornness in carrying out her own projects – even the most extravagant ones – but above all her passion for photography.
A girl with an ethereal beauty and at the same time a rebellious personality, from when she was a child, Lee preferred dangerous games in the garden and playing in her small chemical laboratory to dolls. However, her childhood was not carefree: at the age of seven she was raped by a family friend who infected her with a venereal disease. Her parents, to ease their daughter’s pain, satisfied her every request at that point, making the already enterprising Lee even more brazen.
After yet another expulsion from high school, her father was forced to find an alternative for her education, deciding, in 1925, to send her to Paris, where she initially enrolled in a theater school which she soon abandoned to live as a bohemian. The family then called her back to America where she enrolled in the Art Students League of New York in 1926, where a fortuitous event drastically changed her future.
It is 1927: Lee Miller is about to cross a crowded New York street and risks being hit by a car, but Condé Nast – owner of important fashion magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair – promptly grabs and rescues her. In fright, she stammers something in French and he is immediately struck by the young girl in European clothing; so, in March of the same year the face of Lee Miller is used to illustrate a now historic cover of Vogue designed by Georges Lepape.
Lee soon becomes one of the most sought-after models, the new face of modern society, the incarnation of the new woman: elegant features, blonde garçonne hair, refined gestures, confident gaze and impassive attitude. There are many photographers who want to portray her – Edward Steichen, George Hoyningen-Huene, Nickolas Muray, Horst P. Horst, Arnold Genthe – and countless photo shoots in which she is the protagonist, including the first advertisement for sanitary towels with a real living woman, which caused no small scandal at the time.
Although Lee is in love with the socialites of New York, she misses life in Paris a lot and so, armed with a letter of introduction to Man Ray signed by Steichen, and one from Condé Nast to the photographer Hoyningen-Huene, the young model sets off for Europe.
Our exhibition itinerary starts right from this point in Lee Miller’s life, when she lands in Marseilles and, after a short period spent in Italy, finally reaches Paris to fulfill her dream of becoming a photographer.