ROLAND PENROSE

English Surrealist painter, photographer, poet, biographer, and major promoter and collector of modern art

Born: 14 October 1900, St Johns Wood, London, England.

Died: 23 April 1984, Farleys House, Muddles Green, Chiddingly, East Sussex, England.

Roland is best known as a Surrealist artist and for his biography of his friend Picasso, ‘Picasso – his life and work’ (1958), followed by books on Joan Miró (1970), Man Ray (1975),  Antoni Tàpies (1978), and his autobiography ‘Scrap Book, 1900 – 1981’(1981). He organised the highly acclaimed Picasso retrospective for the Tate Gallery in 1960, followed by other key exhibitions at the Tate and major galleries. He co-founded the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) in 1947 but returned to painting in the last decade of his life, with exhibitions of his collages in London, Paris and Brighton.

Roland’s early painting was much influenced by Max Ernst, from whom he learned the techniques of collage and frottage, but it was the Cubism of Braque and Picasso that gave him the key to his distinctive postcard collages.

The son of a Victorian portrait painter, Roland was educated at Cambridge before moving to France, where he lived from 1922 to 1936. Through his first wife, the surrealist poet Valentine Boué, Roland met the poets André Breton and Paul Éluard, who introduced him to the painters Max Ernst and Joan Miró. He joined the Surrealist movement in Paris, and on his return to London in 1936 organised the International Surrealist Exhibition with the poet David Gascoigne and the artist and writer E.L.T Mesens. This led to the formation of an English Surrealist movement in which Roland became a leading artist.

1936 also saw Roland establish at permanent base at 21 Downshire Hill in Hampstead, London, alongside his artist friends Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Paul Nash, to name but a few. In 1937, during a stay in Paris, Roland met the photographer Lee Miller. The pair fell in love and began a long-distance love affair, which culminated in Lee moving to London in 1939 to be with Roland. They married after the war, and had their only child – a son named Antony, in 1947.

In 1938, Roland continued his role as a disruptor in the British art scene by taking over, with E.L.T Mesens, The London Gallery in Cork Street, where the pair showcased Surrealism and modern art. Famously, the gallery organized the 1938 British tour of Picasso’s Guernica and its associated works. A year later, the gallery published Roland’s surrealist image diary The Road is Wider than Long, which recorded a journey through Greece and Romania he had taken with Lee a year earlier.

Roland retained his Quaker pacifist beliefs during the Second World War, working as an ARP Warden and going on to design and lecture on camouflage for the Home Guard and Armed Forces.

Throughout his life, Roland was a dedicated and enthusiastic champion of new artists. Determined to bring international modernism to London, Roland, Mesens and Herbert Read founded the ICA in 1947 as a space for new and experimental art. Roland remained a guiding force at the ICA for thirty years.

In 1949, Roland purchased Farley Farm as a countryside retreat for his family. With Lee, Roland filled the farmhouse’s brightly painted walls with artworks, adding his own contribution in the form of a mural in the dining room inglenook fireplace. The house became a key meeting place for artists, with their friends visiting in droves. Picasso, Henry Moore, Leonora Carrington, Miró, Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning are among the creatives who signed their names into the Farleys visitor book.

Roland was awarded a CBE in 1960 following the Picasso exhibition at the Tate. He was knighted in 1966 for his Services to Contemporary Art. In 1980 the University of Sussex honoured him with an Honorary Doctorate of Literature.

Roland died at Farleys on 23rd April 1984. Today, many of the rooms at Farleys have been restored, and the house, galleries and garden are open for tours between April and October.

View Roland Penrose’s work
TIMELINE OF Roland Penrose'S LIFE
1900

14th October. Birth of Roland Algernon Penrose to parents James Doyle and Elizabeth Josephine Penrose and elder brothers Lionel and Alec in London, England.

1903

Rolands younger brother Bernard, known as ‘Beacus’ is born.

1908

Penrose family move to Oxhey Grange, Hertfordshire , England where Roland receives a strict Quaker upbringing.

1914

Roland’s family are pacifists. Lionel and Alec register as conscientious objectors and serve with Friends Ambulance Unit on the Western Front.

1918

Roland leaves school and joins the Friends Ambulance Unit being posted to Italy in the final days of the war.

1919

Roland studies architecture at Queens College, Cambridge, England. He finds m0dern art more interesting and discovers the work of Picasso.

1922

Roland moves to Paris. He studies painting, becoming increasingly interested in Surrealism, and befriends Man Ray.

1923

Roland moves to South of France and has his first studio at Villa les Mimosas in Cassis-sur-Mer

1924

Roland meets Valentine Boué, a French Surrealist Poet who introduces him to Paul Éluard.

1925

Roland and Valentine are married.

1928

Roland has his first solo exhibition in Paris, France. Here he meets and starts life-long friendships with Max Ernst and Joan Miró.

1929

Roland befriends André Breton and through Max Ernst begins to use the technique of Frottage.

1930

Roland performs in Luis Bruñel’s comic Surrealist film ‘L’Age d’or’. He and Valentine move to Chateau Le Pouy.

1932

The death of Roland’s parents secures him financial independence. He and Valentine visit India.

1934

Roland and Valentine decide to separate.

1935

Roland returns to Britain, settling in London. Valentine moves to India.

1936

Roland stages the First International Surrealist Exhibition at New Burlington Galleries, London, England.

1937

Roland meets Lee Miller at a Surrealist fancy dress party in Paris, France. He paints first portrait of Lee: Night and Day

1938

Roland and Lee tour the Balkans inspiring Roland to write The Road is Wider than Long. Roland purchases Paul Eluard’s collectionand opens the London Gallery to promote Surrealist art. He also organises a world tour of Picasso’s Guernica to raise money for the Spanish Republican cause. Lee joins Roland in London, Englland.

1939

Roland joins the Industrial Camouflage Research Unit. He contributes to Royal Academy’s United Artists exhibition but his ‘unseemly’ art leads to his exclusion from further invitations.

1940

Roland contributes to Surrealism Today exhibition at Zwemmer Gallery, London, England. He becomes an air-raid warden and War Office camouflage instructor.

1941

Roland publishes the Home Guard Manual of Camouflage.

1942

David E. Scherman moves in with Roland and Lee. All three colaborate and photograph Lee in camouflage, Highgate, London.

1943

Roland is commissioned as an officer in the British Army. He is placed in command of the Army School of Camouflage, Eastern Command, Norfolk, England.

1944

Roland visits Lee at Hotel Scribe during the Liberation of Paris.

1945

Roland publishes In the Service of the People: French Intellectuals and the Resistance. Roland and Lee’s relationship suffers through her absence as a war correspondent and her determination to continue.

1946

Roland creates organisation with Herbert READ that will become the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) and re-opens his London Gallery

1946

Lee returns exhausted to Roland. De-mobbed from the army, he travels with her to USA to be reunited with family and friends.

1947

Roland and Lee marry. Their son Antony is born

1949
Farleys House @ Lee Miller Archives

Roland and Lee buy Farley Farm in East Sussex, England and begin renovating Farleys House.

1950

Roland stops producing art to concentrate on running the Institute of Contemporary Art. Picasso visits Roland and Lee at their home.

1953

Roland is appointed to the British Council’s Fine Arts Committee. Henry Moore’s Mother and Child sculpture is installed in Farleys garden.

1954

Roland begins work on his authorised biography of Picasso.

1958
Roland Penrose and Picasso reading the first edition of Penrose's book 'Portraits of Picasso'. Cannes, France, 1957.

Roland publishes Picasso: His Life and Work.

1961

Roland curates an exhibition of Max Ernst’s work for Tate Gallery, Britain.

1966

Roland is knighted for his sevices to the arts.

1976

Roland resigns, disillusioned, from the ICA.

1977

Lee and Roland’s first granddaughter is born. Lee dies at Farleys House.

1978

Tapies’ monograph by Roland is published in London

1979

Roland’s second granddaughter is born.

1980

Roland returns to ICA as honourary president. Roland Penrose Arts Council Retrospective exhibition tours Britain.

1981

Roland Penrose Arts Council Retrospective exhibition opens at Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, Spain. Roland’s autobiography, Scrap Book 1900–1981 is published

1982

Roland Penrose, Collages Récents exhibition at the Galerie Henriette Gomis Paris, France.

1983

Roland Penrose, Recent Collages opens at the Mayor Gallery, London, England.

1984

Roland dies at Farleys House.

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Exhibitions, galleries and collections
Exhibitions
Contributed Exhibitions
Galleries
Collections
Publications
Exhibitions
  • Exhibitions
  • Contributed Exhibitions
  • Galleries
  • Collections
Artist(s)
Title
Venue
Date
Roland Penrose
Arts Council Touring Exhibition: Roland Penrose
Fundaçio Joan Miró, Barcelona, Spain
02 January 1981 - 03 January 1981
Harris Museum and Gallery, Preston, England
01 January 1980
Arnolfini Gallery, London, England
01 January 1980
ICA, London, England
01 January 1980
Fermoy Centre, Kings Lynn, England
01 January 1980
Ferens Gallery, Hull, England
07 January 1980
The London Gallery, Brook Street, London, England
01 January 1949
Roland Penrose
Exhibition with Ithell Colquhoun
The Mayor Gallery, Cork Street, London, England
01 January 1939
Roland Penrose
Roland Penrose Collages
The Gardner Centre, Brighton, England
01 January 1984
Roland Penrose
Roland Penrose, Collages Récent
Galeries Henriette Gomes, Paris, France
01 January 1982
Roland Penrose
Roland Penrose, Recent Collages
The Mayor Gallery, London, England
01 January 1983
Artist(s)
Title
Venue
Date
Roland Penrose
Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme
Galerie Maeght, Paris, France
01 January 1947
Galerie Beaux Arts, Paris, France
01 January 1938
Roland Penrose
Surrealismi
Retreti Art Centre, Punkaharju, Finland
01 January 1987
Roland Penrose
Hugo & Surrealism
Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris, France
01 March 2024 - 01 March 2024
Roland Penrose
Surrealist Objects and Poems Exhibition
The London Gallery, Cork Street, London, England
01 January 1937
Roland Penrose
Ichundichunich:Picasso im Fotografischen Portrait
Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, Germany
01 March 2024 - 01 March 2024
Fundacion Museo Picasso, Malaga, Spain
03 May 2012 - 06 October 2012
Museum Ludwig, Germany
01 March 2024 - 01 March 2024
Roland Penrose
Surrealistika Ting
Mjellby Museum, Sweden
01 March 2024 - 10 March 2012
Roland Penrose
International Surrealist Exhibition
New Burlington Galleries, London, England
01 January 1936
Roland Penrose
Surrealsim and the Dream
Museo Thyssen - Bornesmisza, Madrid, Spain
10 August 2013 - 01 December 2014
Roland Penrose
La Subversion des Images
Fundacion MAPFRE, Madrid, Spain
01 March 2024 - 01 March 2024
Fotomuseum, Winterhur, Switzerland
01 March 2024 - 01 March 2024
Roland Penrose
The Stars Alphabet ELT Mesens (1903-1971):
Mu.ZEE Kunstmuseum, Oostend, Belgium
07 June 2013 - 01 March 2024
Roland Penrose
Looking at Picasso
Sala Expo Arade, Portugal
01 March 2024 - 01 March 2024
Roland Penrose
The surrealist spirit in Britain
Whitford and Hughes Gallery, London , England
01 January 1988
Roland Penrose
A salute to British Surrealism: 1930-1950
Ferens Gallery, Hull, England
04 January 1985 - 08 January 1985
Roland Penrose
Man Ray and Lee Miller
Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco, USA
01 March 2024 - 10 July 2012
Roland Penrose
Things
Norwich School of Art & Design, England
01 January 2000
Roland Penrose
Another World
Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, Dean Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland
07 October 2010 - 01 September 2011
Roland Penrose
Partners in Surrealism
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, USA
06 November 2011 - 12 April 2011
Roland Penrose
Two Old Pals
The Mayor Gallery, London, England
01 January 1990
Roland Penrose
Artishs Make Faces
Plymouth Art Gallery, Plymouth, England
09 September 2021 - 01 March 2024
Roland Penrose
Peinture Surréaliste en Anglettere 1930 – 1960
Galerie Mille Neuf Cent Deux Mille, Paris, France
01 January 1982
Roland Penrose
Dada & Surrealism in Brussels, Paris & London
Roland Penrose
Roland Penrose and British Surrealism
Southampton City Art Centre, Southampton, England
02 September 2012 - 01 March 2024
Roland Penrose
Durham Surrealist Festival
Durham, England
01 January 1968
Roland Penrose
Surreal Objects
Schirn Kunstall, Germany
02 November 2011 - 01 March 2024
Artist(s)
Venue
Location
Contact
Roland Penrose
Ferens Art Gallery
Queen Victoria Square, Carr Ln, Hull HU1 3RA, United Kingdom
www.hcandl.co.uk/museums-and-galleries/ferens
Roland Penrose
Southampton City Art Gallery
Civic Centre, Commercial Rd, Southampton SO14 7LY, United Kingdom
+44 (0) 23 8083 3007
southamptoncityartgallery.com
Roland Penrose
The Tate
Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RG
hello@tate.org.uk
tate.org.uk
Roland Penrose
The Penrose Collection & the Lee Miller Archives
Farley Farm (his home from 1949-1984), Muddles Green, Chiddingly, East SussexBN8 6HW, United Kingdom
+44 (0) 1825 872 691
images@leemiller.co.uk
www.leemiller.co.uk
www.rolandpenrose.co.uk
Roland Penrose
The Mayor Gallery
22A Cork Street, London, W1S 3NA, United Kingdom
+44 (0)20 773 43558
www.themayorgallery.com
Artist(s)
Venue
Location
Contact
Roland Penrose
Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Rd, Knightsbridge, London SW7 2RL, UK
www.vam.ac.uk
Roland Penrose
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
75 Belford Rd, Edinburgh EH4 3DR, Scotland
www.nationalgalleries.org
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