PHOTOGRAPHY & INTERIORS
Lee Miller was one of the most fascinating, and beautiful, women of the 20th century. After starting her career as a fashion model, she worked (and had an affair with) with Man Ray before becoming an acclaimed war photographer and one of the first people to photograph the concentration camp at Dachau when it was liberated. After this, she married Roland Penrose — the Surrealist and co-founder of the ICA — and retired to live at Farley Farm House in Sussex.
Thrillingly, you can visit this farm and sit at her kitchen table, as Picasso and so many other artistic figures did – including Joan Miró, Max Ernst and Man Ray. Alongside the cupboards of elegantly-packaged ingredients she used (she was a brilliant cook) there are original Picasso works exhibited in the kitchen, as well as the tile he painted above her Aga – now blackened around the edges from years of bacon fat. The house is also a showcase for Roland Penrose’s own Surrealist works, some of which document his marriage to Miller. In his last piece, you can see echoes of Man Ray’s famous painting of her lips, Observatory Time – The Lovers. The most startling original art exhibited in the house however is the iconic photograph of Miller, dirty from having photographed Dachau that day, in Hitler’s pristine bath. It is a deservedly well-known image but interestingly, at Farley Farm it is exhibited next to a lesser-known photograph, of the Life photographer and Miller’s mentor David E Scherman (who happened to be Jewish) also in Hitler’s bathtub. The lovers posed for these pictures in Munich only hours before Hitler and Eva Braun killed themselves in Berlin. By way of contrast, some of Miller’s portraits of celebrities are displayed in the same room, not least one of Marlene Dietrich. There are also mementoes in the house from Miller’s early life, including the dolls she played with in Poughkeepsie where she grew up.
Farley Farm also houses the Lee Miller archive – hundreds of photographs by her that were only discovered by her son, Antony Penrose, years after she died. And it’s Penrose’s extended tour (on Wednesdays and Saturdays from April – October) that you should book if you are planning a visit. It’s hugely popular – the next available tour is in August so you do need to book ahead.
Outside the house there is a sculpture garden with views of the glorious South Downs (where we sat and read in the sunshine on our visit) as well as a farm shop and a gallery with rotating exhibitions. The farm is very close to Charleston, the country home of the Bloomsbury group so it makes sense to visit both as many group tours do.