ROLAND PENROSE: The Friendly Surrealist

Antony Penrose, Author, George Melly, Foreword by . Prestel $35 (192p) ISBN 978-3-7913-2492-0

The son of Picasso pal and British surrealist painter Roland Penrose and the saucy and brilliant American photographer Lee Miller, Penrose published a memorable book about his controversial, hell-raising mom. Now it's Daddy's turn in this briefer and much milder biography, with some elements of a personal memoir. Penrose describes his father's friendships with creators like painter Max Ernst and poet Paul Eluard in a manner akin to Quentin Bell's writings on Bloomsbury. (The author knew some of them, too, as most lived well into their 80s and 90s.) But the dominant force in Roland's life was Picasso, to whom he was devoted, writing all sorts of propagandistic books and articles about Le Grand Pablo, organizing exhibits, dutifully loathing anyone Picasso decided to dislike, etc. As a painter, Roland was fairly weak tea (as 21 color and 29 b&w illustrations show), technically inferior to someone like Magritte, with a softer, more obliging visual imagination. (His later collages, done as an octogenarian, are the best works here, and show real backbone.) As director of the Roland Penrose Collection and Lee Miller Archive in Sussex, England, Penrose fils understandably overrates his father's work, is generously uncritical of all but his most extreme acts of Picasso worship and even describes his masochistic sexual tastes (handcuffs and all) in a tolerant tone. Roland was avid for official honors like a knighthood (which he got) and was known in later years as Britain's "grand old man of surrealism"—a title that reflects the still-prevalent ignorance of the destructive and irreverent qualities of real surrealism. This book will appeal for larger art collections, and to any Picasso buff hunting down every association. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
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