Pablo Picasso painted six portraits of Lee Miller in 1937, during the summer the artist spent in Mougins with Miller and Roland Penrose, Paul and Nusch Éluard, Man Ray and Ady Fidelin, Eileen Agar and Joseph Bard, as well as his then lover, Dora Maar. In the exhibition of the Museu Picasso of Barcelona, five of these portraits are exhibited together for the first time.
Picasso depicts Lee in one or more characteristic elements of the typical Arlésienne costume, that is, wearing the checked bodysuit with the white cap and/or guidon (ribbons) in her hair. [+]
Although these are portraits painted from imagination, Lee’s physical appearance and personality are strongly evident, particularly when her large eyes and wide, smiling mouth are featured. The bright colours are also clear allusions to the photographer’s great vitality and creative energy, as well as reflecting the climate and landscape of sunny southern France.
Moreover, the spiral and geometric motifs, the distorted forms and the markedly erotic air of these portraits are traits found in both primitivism and surrealism, two movements that greatly interested Picasso’s companions that summer.
One might say that Picasso revisits the Arlésiennes that Vincent Van Gogh had painted half a century before, imbuing his work with unusual violence as regards morphology and use of colour.