Edinburgh is a hotbed of street performance, pushy flyerers and hill-related exhaustion at this time of year. The National Galleries of Scotland offer a range of beautifully curated free collections - each a delightful sanctuary away from the frenzy. I don’t know how many of you know about the neo-gothic palatial Portrait Gallery, its pretty Victorian library and 30,000 images. The
This is an exercise in concise storytelling that is undeniably rich.
The black and white narrative of friendship, war, creation and death charts the relationship between at least three figures (not just those in the exhibition title): Miller, Picasso and Penrose. I say this because the clever configuration of images in the compact photography gallery allows three very different portraits to rest side by side. We move from Picasso’s resplendently colourful robust representation of a mother (1937) to a stark, slightly soft self-portrait by Miller (1937), and then to Penrose’s delicate shot of Miller supporting Picasso towards the end of his life (1970).
Surrealism is a lifestyle here (and that can be said of the Fringe too). But amongst the convivial bohemian revelry are grave streaks of pain: Miller jokes that she is scared to eat one of Picasso’s tomatoes (‘a work of art’) in 1944 when food is scarce; Eluard’s ‘Liberté, j’écris ton nom’ becomes a communal call to arms when creativity is stifled; friends do not return.
But there is a delightful playfulness too: Picasso shoves a cigarette in the junk sculpture La femme à la clé to make it come alive for a child. A dud shot by Penrose is included, and cleverly demonstrates that not every moment was captured with clarity and preparedness. Glimpses of beach scenes and cluttered (but decadent) studios show a genius - and human - at work, and truly living.
The little fragments of war memorabilia and media exposure, including Antony Penrose dressed like a royal at Christmas for Vogue, bring a visceral depth to the relationships that make it all the more difficult to approach the final images of the exhibition. Occasionally placard text can oversimplify key points in Picasso’s life (‘one of Picasso’s most important friends’; a ‘complicated life surrounding him’), but this is an exercise in concise storytelling that is undeniably rich.