Born to a family of painters, as an adolescent Penrose drew mythical monsters in combat and, upon completing his studies in 1922, even did a mural on this theme in the stairway of Christ Church College at Oxford. Penrose moved to Paris, and in 1925 had a liaison with a poet from Gascony, Valentine Boué, who henceforth published her books under the name Valentine Penrose. He met Max Ernst and invited him to the farmhouse La Noblesse at Cadière-d’Azur, in Provence, in 1926, where he began to paint, seeking Ernst’s counsel. “He gave me lessons in boxing, painting, rat-hunting and chess,” said Penrose. In his paintings Penrose presented a poetics of the bizarre, as in Seeing is Believing (1937), where a hand rises toward the head of a blonde woman who is falling from the sky; and Winged Domino (1938), a portrait of Valentine with butterflies on her eyelids and mouth, or Good Shooting (1939), a nude woman with a landscape in place of her head. He also composed collages by juxtaposing postcards (Magnetic Moths, 1938, Tate Gallery, London; Elephant Bird, 1938, Victoria and Albert Museum, London) and high-style surrealist objects (Captain Cook’s Last Voyage, 1936; Dew Machine, 1937). Penrose was also a patron of surrealism, becoming a collector to help penniless friends. In 1935 he bought La Joie de Vivre from Max Ernst when the picture was scarcely begun. he was the instigator of the International Surrealist Exhibition, in London in 1936, and founder of the London Gallery. In 1937, during Rochas’ masked ball, to which he came dressed as a beggar, he met Lee Miller- it was love at first sight. They went on a trip together in the Balkans in 1938 and published photos and notes from the trip in The Road is Wider than Long. Miller became his second wife and the mother of their son, Antony. In 1938 Paul Éluard offered to sell Penrose his collection of a hundred paintings (including 40 Max Ernsts, 10 Picassos, 3 Dalis, 1 Klee, etc). “His only condition was that the price not to be open to discussion.” Éluard did not take advantage of their friendship, as the price set for these treasures was a trifling 1,500 pounds. During the Second World War, Penrose was a surrealist and a patriot, both with equal energy. IN January 1940, after a painting he submitted to the Royal Academy exhibition was rejected because it contained, “unsuitable words,” he replaced it with From the Housetops, which depicted eight hands saying “shit” in sign language. Jury members failed to comprehend. In June 1940 he organized the exhibition Surrealism Today at the Zwemmer Gallery on Charing Cross Road. In addition to his work in the arts, he had the military task of camouflaging the city of London against bombings and wrote The Home Guard Manual of Camouflage. After the war, Penrose was a cofounder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), of which he was president from 1969 to 1976. Living most of the time at Farley Farm, a hamlet of Muddles Green in Sussex, Penrose published biographies of Picasso (1958), Miró (1970) and Man Ray (1975), without entirely giving up painting. At the age of eighty, around the time of his exhibition in 1980 at the Arts Council, he was still painting, creating such works as The Third Eye- portrait of a woman with a huge eye in place of her head- proving that he intended to remain a surrealist to his last breath.
Born 1900 and died 1983 in London.