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Farley Farm
Home of Roland Penrose and Lee Miller

Article by Andrew Smith, September 2003

Farley Farm in East Sussex is one of those rare places where you get a feel for the real essence or presence of a particular person, or group of people, or in this case two people: Roland Penrose and Lee Miller. Penrose was a painter of considerable talent and champion of the Surrealists from Britain and abroad, and Miller was a fashion model and great photographer who recorded some of the most momentous events in the 20th Century, not least the fall of Hitler and the liberation of the concentration camps in the Second World War. When you visit Farley Farm, you get a sense of these two characters (relatively unknown outside the art or fashion world) through their own work on display in the house, the many strange and wonderful objects they collected, and the many works by Picasso, Man Ray, Max Ernst and others that they collected, showing their deep involvement with many of the 20th Century's most influential artists. When a group from Freelance visited Farley Farm in May, the house and its former unconventional inhabitants were proudly brought to life by their son Anthony Penrose, who is also their biographer and keeper of their estates.

We had a great day and apart from the opportunity the tour provided to see some great artworks by Picasso, Ernst, et al, I was touched by Anthony Penrose's reminiscences of his mother, especially when he explained the background to one seemingly uneventful photograph hanging in the sitting room. The picture was taken by Time Life photographer David Scherman and is of Lee Miller sitting in a bath tub with a pair of dirty boots on the bath mat in front (Miller took a similar picture of Scherman sitting in the same tub). It turns out the bath is in a house in Munich that belonged to Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun and the image is taken on the same day, at possibly around the same time of day, that Hitler killed himself as defeat for him became inefitable. The image becomes ever more chilling when you realise that Miller is washing off the ash of human remains from one of the concentration camps liberated earlier that day and photographed by Scherman and Miller.

Highlights of Penrose's work include the fantastic wall painting in the Dining Room inglenook, with its bold sunlike face shining across the South Downs, his painting 'Winged Domino - Portrait of Valentine', evoking the mystery of his first wife, the strange and gem-like 'Night and Day', and not least his stunning postcard collages. The objet trouvés (found objects) collected by Penrose and displayed in cabinets about the house were also fascinating.

--Andrew Smith, Sept 2003

   
   
   
Freelance member Daniel Rounding contemplates one of the 'Surrealist' sculptures in the beautiful gardens at Farley Farm.
 
You can find out more about Lee Miller or Roland Penrose, and Farley Farm, on their respective web sites: www.leemiller.co.uk and www.rolandpenrose.co.uk (Note the guided tours are by arrangement only.)