Ahead of the opening of Lee Miller & Picasso at Newlands House Gallery, Petworth, we chatted to Maya Binkin, Artistic Director and Curator about what makes seeing a show in this beautiful location so special.

Maya, you are the Artistic Director and Curator of Newlands House Gallery in Petworth, what is the unique about the gallery and its location?

I love showing photographs of the space to artists who I want to exhibit. It is such a delight to see their reaction – not another white cube! They really respond to the architecture of the space, which is of course what makes Newlands House Gallery special. All the dado rails, fireplaces, wooden floors and Georgian windows add up to an exciting but intimate exhibition environment which is totally unique. The proportions are domestic so viewers seeing art in this context can have a really special experience. And the artist get to do a show like no other.

How do you decide which shows you are going to put on?

You never know when a good show will come your way. Julian Opie’s exhibition came about from a studio visit and discovering he was an art collector, as well as an artist. Someone once told me over a cocktail at the Royal Academy of Arts that Lee Miller’s archive is in Sussex and one can make an appointment to see the works. Sometimes it is something you read, others a tree you might notice. Then you need to look to see how feasible it would be to do the show and if it fits the programme for the space. But rule of thumbs is if I find something interesting, I bet that other will as well.

We are so excited to see Lee Miller and Picasso (10 September-8 January 2023) at Newlands Gallery. When did Picasso and Lee Miller meet and what was the nature of their relationship?

They first met in the south of France in 1937. This was a really important year for Picasso artistically speaking. It was the year he painted Guernica and though the time they spent in the south of France with friends was fun and decedent, there was an undertone of anxiety at the worsening political situation in Europe. Miller was beautiful, but she was also a well respected surrealist photographer and they hit it off from the start. There are rumours that they had a physical relationship but I don’t really think that matters. What lasted for the next forty years was an intellectual relationship. A real friendship. That summer, Picasso painted Miller six times and Miller photographed him which was the start of a series of over 1000 prints that would last until the end of their lives.

What is your favourite Lee Miller portrait of Picasso?

I really love the images she took of Picasso with her son, Antony, at their house in Sussex. There is so much love and devotion in those images featuring two of her most favourite boys, apart from her husband of course. Picasso looks totally enamoured with Antony and they look like they might be sharing a cheeky joke. Later in life, Antony would describe those moments with Picasso with real fondness.

How much time did Picasso spend in Sussex? Do we know how he felt about it?

I have not seen any written accounts of his time there but Lee was a legendary hostess. Her home was open to an array of famous guests including Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Leonora Carrington, and Man Ray. I am sure that Picasso had a great time. There are photos of him in rubber boots and cap, stomping around the countryside. He was even inspired by the family bull, William, to do a wonderful print which Roland Penrose then got Picasso to donate in order to raise funds for the ICA. Considering he is famous for his Spanish bulls, it’s great to see him give a British bull the Picasso treatment. I am delighted that we have this print on view at Newlands House Gallery.

If you were invited to a house party at Farley’s House (Lee Miller & Roland Penrose’s house in East Sussex) in the Fifties, who would most like to meet?

Easy – I would have loved to meet Lee. I have spent the past few months reading about her. I think I have read everything ever written about her! And I am fascinated. I want to know what made her so charismatic and charming – so much so that anyone who ever met her was totally besotted with her. People who met her had a real affection for her and I would have wanted to see her for myself. I would like to think we would have gotten along.

What future shows should we look forward to at Newlands Gallery?

I like to give the exhibitions a good mix of modern masters, contemporary art, and photography. I am currently working on our next show with Annie Morris and Idris Khan. We are presenting these two artists side by side as their art really compliments each other, not least because they are husband and wife. That shared artistic experience is very interesting, especially when the artists have very distinct practices. I am also working on a future exhibition that deals with rococo in contemporary art. It will be a real feast for the eyes!

You can feast your eyes upon Lee Miller & Picasso from 10th September – 8th January. Book your tickets here.

Image: Lee Miller © Lee Miller Archives, England 2022. All rights reserved. www.leemiller.co.uk