Thursday, February 25, 2010


There’s one thing that’s probably even less satisfying, and far more trouble, than breakfast in bed, and that’s the torturous ritual known as the picnic.

Eating outdoors in itself is fine - whether it’s sitting on a park bench eating a sandwich or on the terrace of an outdoor restaurant - but once you call it a picnic there’s all that organization, all that business with hampers and special plates and cutlery rugs. It sucks the fun right out of it.

I’ve been thinking about this because the current issue of Gatronomica also has a piece about the later years of Lee Miller. We all know about her days as model and muse, and then as war photographer, but who knew that she ended up living on a farm in east Sussex, married to Roland Penrose and engaging in “defiant” cookery”? Well, many people I suppose, but not me.

I found myself thinking about that famous photograph Miller took in Picasso’s garden, in 1937, titled “Picnic at Mougins.” See below.

© Lee Miller Archives, England 2010. All rights reserved.

The cast, left to right, is made up of Nusch and Paul Eluard, Roland Penrose, Man Ray and Ady Fidelin. It’s always seemed a little dubious that the women are topless and the men fully clothed, something to do with the male gaze, artists and models, nature and culture. And the fact that it’s all a knowing nod towards Manet’s “Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe” doesn’t really change things much.

Knowing that the photograph is taken by a woman, changes things just a little, but of course Lee Miller was never exactly reluctant to take her top off, and I just discovered this picture (below) of the occasion, taken by Roland Penrose, proving that, yes she was nude model as well as photographer.

© Roland Penrose Estate, England 2010.The Roland Penrose Collection. All rights reserved.

“Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe” has surely been parodied and pastiched more than any painting except for the Mona Lisa; in other paintings, in photographs, cartoons and album covers and whatnot. Even Picasso had a crack at it.

I’ve been peering at reproductions of Manet’s original, trying to see what they actually had to eat at their picnic. It’s hard to tell. There’s bread and fruit, but I can’t identify all those fruits, and perhaps surprisingly, there’s no wine. And certainly there isn’t any eating going on – they obviously have other things on their minds.

At least it looks as though the Lee Miller crowd have eaten well, and had a bottle or two of wine, but since their plates are conspicuously empty we don’t know what was on the menu. In the Penrose picture some of the plates have been cleared away. They also, of course, have a table, which seems way, way too much trouble for a picnic.

I have only one picnic picture from my own life, fully clothed, here with my mother somewhere in Lincolnshire in the late 1960s, and although my mother’s having a cup of tea – in a real china cup note, - I’m very conspicuously not have anything at all. Even then I probably thought it was too much trouble.

And just to add, the Lee Miller Archives have been more than fair and generous in allowing me to use the relevant images.  They have asked me to add the information that "The home of Lee Miller and Roland Penrose, Farley Farm House in East Sussex is open for guided tours being April and October each year.  Please contact Kate: 01825 872856 "  I am very happy to do so.


  1. I am the rights manager of the Lee Miller Archives and The Penrose Estate. It has been brought to my attention that two of our images have been used in your review.
    Although we appreciate your enthusiasm and interest in Lee Miller’s and Roland Penrose's work, displaying their work with no credit line and no permission contravenes the copyright law. Please contact me as soon as possible. Thank you Kerry Negahban

  2. Dear Kerry - would love to contact you - but clicking on lmarchives doesn't get me anywhere. What's your direct email address?

  3. I was going to say that that's the best picnic photo ever- I love that you're right by the road- but then that comment gobsmacked me. SERIOUSLY. It might not be real- why don't you stick a little photo credit on and see if that helps.
    A blogger I read was recently told he couldn't sell a T-shirt with the caption that included the phrase "drama queen" because that phrase is trademarked by a company that makes stupid T-shirts (David & Goliath, ironically.) Redonks.

  4. Watch it be in Nigeria...

  5. It's interesting that you say calling it a picnic is where outdoor eating becomes a burden. My wife and I have spent many a fair weather day throwing together an al fresco lunch and dining on a blanket in a park without a hint of worry or hassle.

    However, as you point out, nearly every excursion that has begun with the words "Let's go have a picnic" has disintegrated into weird chaos.

    "Why don't we grab a quick lunch and eat at flower preserve" has never yielded such difficulties.

  6. Apologies, I was unaware you were trying to contact me. My direct email:

    Thank You

    Kerry Negahban