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Roland Penrose

The Life of a Surrealist

James King

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The first biography of Roland Penrose, one of the great English-born practitioners of modernism in the twentieth century

'James King has produced a brilliant analysis of one of the most extraordinary, subtle and complex characters I have ever known. Roland Penrose was ruthless in his pursuit of the best, ruthless with anyone standing in the way of what he wanted to achieve, and yet genuinely tender in his rare ability to explain the art he loved, the art that he wanted you to love. He and his wife, Lee, were my first real tutors in the world of creativity, and I owe them a great and loving debt. This book is not just about a man, it is about an era, a change in our thinking, that in many ways set us free.'-- Julian Fellowes

As an artist, an impresario, a biographer and a collector, Roland Penrose (1900-1984) is a key figure in the study of art in England from 1920 to 1984. In the first biography of Penrose, acclaimed biographer James King explores the intricacies of Penrose’s life and work tracing the profound effects of his upbringing in a Quaker household on his values, the early influence of Roger Fry, his friendships with Max Ernst, André Breton and other surrealists, especially Paul Éluard, his organization of the landmark International Surrealist Exhibition in the summer of 1936, his conflicted relationship with Pablo Picasso, and his tireless promotion of surrealism as well as the production of his own surrealist art. With a deftness of touch, King traces Penrose’s complex professional and personal lives, including his pacifism, his work as a biographer – including his outstanding life of Picasso as well as those of Miró, Man Ray, and Tapiès – and as an art historian, as well as his unconventionality, especially in his two marriages – including that to Lee Miller –and his numerous love affairs.

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Contents

Preface: The Inner Light
1. ‘Born a Quaker’ (1900-1913)
2. ‘This Fascinating Horror’ (1914-1918)
3. A Heretic in Training (1919-1922)
4. Born Again (1922-1931)
5. Insoluble Questions (1932-1940)
6. ‘Let’s Do Something’ (1935-1936)
7. The Modern Colossus (1936-1938)
8. Aphrodite in Blue (1936-1938)
9. On the Brink of War (1937-1939)
10. Grim Glory (1939-1945)
11. Post-War Blues (1945-1947)
12. Re-Defining Modernism (1946-1953)
13. A Pastoral Retreat (1949-1953)
14. Life with a Virtuoso (1954-1966)
15. The Uninvited Guest (1966-1984)
Notes
Bibliography
Index.

About the Author

James King is Professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University. He has been a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellow and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Among his other books are lives of Roland Penrose’s friends, Paul Nash and Herbert Read.

Reviews

Painter, writer, arts administrator, ardent lover, gentleman-farmer, Surrealist rebel from a Quaker background – Roland Penrose’s breathtakingly intense and complex life is absorbingly described in this richly detailed narrative.  Essential reading.

- Elizabeth Cowling, Edinburgh College of Art

James King has produced a brilliant analysis of one of the most extraordinary, subtle and complex characters I have ever known. Roland Penrose was ruthless in his pursuit of the best, ruthless with anyone standing in the way of what he wanted to achieve, and yet genuinely tender in his rare ability to explain the art he loved, the art that he wanted you to love. He and his wife, Lee, were my first real tutors in the world of creativity, and I owe them a great and loving debt. This book is not just about a man, it is about an era, a change in our thinking, that in many ways set us free.

- Julian Fellowes

‘Penrose lived the sort of rich full life that is pure gold for biographer… His (James King’s biography) is a deft and informative unveiling of a life that was, in both senses, surreal.’

- Michael Prodger , The Sunday Times

‘King’s is a model study of a deceptively elusive figure. It balances admiration with honesty, foreground with the wider Surrealist moment, practicality with aesthetics.’

- Brian Moreton , The Herald

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