Friday, December 13, 2013

The Art Set: Art & Food

Lee Miller with Bettina McNulty, James Beard and friends at Farley Farm, summer 1966. Photo: Henry McNulty.
The Art Set: Art & Food
by Charlie Scheips

I have to confess that the idea of traveling to Brooklyn from Manhattan has always sent me into a panic. When I have found the courage to actually make the journey I usually have to print out a Google Map direction search as my security blanket for the trip.

Despite my irrational Brooklyn-phobia, last Saturday night the magnetic pull to that other borough was too great to resist as food historian Carolin C. Young was throwing a dinner in honor of fashion historian Becky E. Conekin’s new bookLee Miller in Fashion.”

Invite for Carolin C. Young’s party.
Click to order Lee Miller in Fashion. Cover photo: George Hoyningen-Huene, Lee Miller and Agneta Fischer, 1932, © R.J. Horst.
Lee Miller is one of those legendary figures of the 20th century whom the world seems never to get enough of. Carolin’s invite featured a color photograph taken by journalist Henry McNulty from the weekend of July 9, 1966 when Lee Miller, hosted a weekend for friends at Farley Farm — the property in East Sussex she shared with her second husband Sir Roland Penrose, the great English artist and writer. Penrose is remembered today mostly as one of the 20th Century’s great art promoters and collectors who was instrumental in founding the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) in London.

I first met Carolin during the 1990s when she was still living in New York. She moved to Europe soon after the publication in 2002 of her imaginative book Apples of Gold in Setting of Silver that told the stories of twelve legendary dinner parties throughout history.

Today she divides her time between London and Paris where she teaches and organizes food-oriented tours as well acting as a contributing editor to The Magazine Antiques and Zester Daily. Carolin also finds time to translate and blog about the world’s first food magazine, the Almanach des gourmands.

She is currently working on a book that will be a major study of the history of Parisian gastronomy.

The setting for Carolin’s party last week was the townhouse of her mother Linda Graves Young in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn.

My taxi driver immediately calmed my fears about the trip saying he was taking me to the hottest part of Brooklyn and that I would have no trouble grabbing a taxi for my return (which indeed turned out to be true).

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge the lights of Manhattan twinkled into the distance but there was also a sparkling of lights as we came off the bridge and drove past Borough Hall on the way to the party. Having been to many a Carolin Young food-inspired events over the years, I knew that there was sure to be ample offerings of food and drink as well as a colorful cast of personalities drawn from her wide circle of friends. Carolin is a gatherer of people with a capital G.
Arriving in Brooklyn via taxi.
Driving past Borough Hall, December 7, 6:30 p.m.
The bright lights of Brooklyn.
Linda Graves Young’s house.
Sarah Borden, Carolin Young, and Becky Conekin greeting guests ...
One of the rules of the Young household is that whenever one arrives for a party you are asked to be the next person to answer the doorbell — I arrived with two other ladies so I hope they lived up to the request as I certainly forgot to do my duty. Inside the large open plan of the first floor a long banquet table of food — flanked on either end by a huge Christmas tree and the bar — was still being laid out. Around the corner at the back of the house, Carolin’s mother Linda, a formidable cook in her own right, was busy at the stove preparing other savory delicacies for the table.

The theme of the dinner was inspired by Lee Miller’s last great passion — food. The Poughkeepsie-born Elizabeth “Lee” Miller was first known to the world as one of the great fashion models of the late 1920s after publisher Condé Nast spotted the beautiful 19-year-old about to walk into the path of an oncoming car on a street in Manhattan.
Lee Miller, Self Portrait, New York, 1932. © Lee Miller Archives, England. All rights reserved.
Lee Miller, Model wearing a Hardy Amies suit, London, England, 1949. © Lee Miller Archives, England. All rights reserved.
Lee Miller, White pique blouse, a stripey cotton skirt both by Breener at Jay's, Sicily, Italy, 1950. © Lee Miller Archives, England. All rights reserved.
Patrick Matthews, Lee Miller Directing a Shoot at VogueStudios, September 1949.
Considering her importance in the history of photography, it's ironic that Miller’s first appearance as a model was illustrator Georges Lepape’s great March 15, 1927 Vogue cover that remains an icon of the glamour of the Roaring Twenties.

For the next couple years Miller appeared in dozens of Vogue fashion spreads, particularly those shot by Condé Nast chief photographer Edward Steichen. Her collaboration with Steichen came to a sudden end when he chose Miller to appear in an ad campaign created by the J. Walter Thompson ad agency for Kotex feminine napkins that was considered too scandalous for the times when it appeared.
Georges LePape, Vogue cover, March 15, 1927. Lee Miller model. Edward Steichen took this photo of Miller in 1928 and sold it to Kotex, making her the first actual person to appear in a ad for menstrual hygiene.
Lee Miller, Vogue 1928, by Edward Steichen.
Vik Volk, “Vogue’s Roundabout” featuring the magazine’s stars including Lee Miller, Eric, Cecil Beaton, Rene Bouche Horst and Clifford Coffin, British Vogue, August 1946.
Undaunted by the scandal, Miller abandoned New York (and fashion modeling) for Paris and managed to convince artist and photographer Man Ray (who was also at that time a frequent contributor toVogue and Vanity Fair) to take her on as an apprentice to his photographic work.

She soon became Man Ray’s lover and muse, and began her transformation as a photographer in her own right. She also, thanks both to her great beauty and intelligence as well as Man Ray’s artistic connections, entered the realm of Paris’s avant garde cultural life becoming friends with Picasso, Jean Cocteau and influential poet Paul Éluard, to name a few, at the dawn of the Surrealist movement’s ascendancy.
Man Ray and Lee Miller in London in 1975. (Eileen Tweedy/The Roland Penrose Collection/NPR).
After her affair with Man Ray ended, Miller returned to New York and set up her own studio where she notably photographed the all-black cast of the Virgil Thomson/ Gertrude Stein opera Four Saints in Three Acts when it premiered in 1934 (see earlier Art Set with program).

Despite her prodigious photographic career, she had only one solo show during her lifetime — at the legendary Julien Levy Gallery in New York. She also had one of her many love affairs with Levy for a time.

Aziz Eloui Bey and Lee Miller.
Miller abandoned New York in 1934, this time for Cairo, after marrying Egyptian businessman Aziz Eloui Bey. In 1937, bored with life in Cairo she returned to Paris where she first met Roland Penrose. By the time World War II started, Miller was living with Penrose in London. She also had become Vogue’s war correspondent and granted US Army credentials to cover the horror.

After D-Day she returned to France and documented war ravaged England and France. Miller’s photographs just after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps of Dachau and Buchenwald were first widely seen by horrified Americans on the pages of Vogue in a feature entitled “Believe It!” At the war’s end Life magazine photographer David E. Scherman famously captured Miller taking a bath in Hitler’s bathtub in Munich.
Lee Miller in Adolf Hitler's bathtub in Munich. The image was taken by David E. Scherman on April 30, 1945, the day Hitler committed suicide in Berlin.
Although Miller continued to work as a photographer for Vogue after the war, she began to suffer from depression brought on by what is now believed by the “post- traumatic stress” from all the gruesome things she witnessed and documented as a war correspondent.

She medicated herself with alcohol, and after the birth in 1947 of her son Antony “Tony” Penrose, she became increasingly more interested in food and cooking.

Carolin Young reminded me the other night that Lee Miller attended the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris even before Julia Child. In 1949 Miller and Penrose bought Farley Farm that would become a mecca for the international art and the food world for the next several decades.
Linda Graves Young and Carolin in the kitchen.
Linda hard at work!
The photograph by McNulty on Carolin Young’s invitation was taken in the garden at Farley Farm with a seated Lee Miller, casually dressed and wearing an apron surrounded by the legendary cookbook author James Beard, Farley Farm’s Patsy Murray, Penrose’s longtime personal assistant Julie Lawson; K.T. Laughton and Bettina McNulty — which is where this story takes on another dimension.

It was almost two decades ago when I first met Bettina McNulty via our mutual friend Susan Train in Paris. For years Susan took a house somewhere in France for a month each summer, and I started joining her and Bettina, as well as a host of other friends in the late 1990s. All life in rural France revolved around food — from daily visits to the market to our last sips of wine at table.
Charlie, Susie, and Freddy Bondi, Tom Graf, and Bettina McNulty at Chez Phillipe, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, France 2002. We all lunched on trout amandine from the river we’re sitting besides.
Charlie Scheips's portraits of Bettina McNulty in France.
Bettina and Susan at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, France 2002.
Over these summers — first at a house Susan rented near Avignon, and later at a house in the Gers region between Bordeaux and Toulouse, I have spent countless hours talking food and life with Bettina learning more than a few tricks and recipes along the way.

On one occasion we spotted a basket of fresh zucchini blossoms at the market and Bettina taught me how she and Lee Miller used to prepare them by stuffing then with a slice of mozzarella, a few capers and an anchovy filet, and then, after coating them with a light batter of flour and water, quickly frying them in hot oil. Delicious.
Charlie Scheips, Tom Graf, Susan Train, and Bettina McNulty in the Gers, France, 2006.
A projection of Lee Miller at a wall at the party.
Though she has long lived in London, Bettina McNulty was a major source of the Lee Miller-inspired dinner at Carolin’s that night. These included platters of “Penroses” which are mushrooms topped with a piping of foie gras mousse to look like the roses at Farley Farm; a “Persian Carpet” where slices of orange are decorated with a sprinklings of candied orange zest and violets, and drizzled with crème de cassis; and a “Gold Fish” featuring a 6.2 pound whole red snapper with grated onions and carrots.
The Lee Miller-inspired banquet table.
Lee Miller’s “Gold Fish.”
The centerpiece of the table was an enormous “Globe Cake,” which Carolin’s mother invented during her daughter’s youth by baking a cake using a wok for the cake mixture, and then icing the two forms with a multicolored map of the world. It was presented atop a Lazy Susan so it could revolve. There was also a selection of Middle Eastern delicacies including grilled eggplant and peppers and marinated grilled lamp and chicken skewers. All the food was either “skewered” or finger food inspired by a 1930's Surrealist picnic Carolin chronicled in her first book.
Linda Graves Young’s “Globe Cake” atop Lee Miller-inspired “Persian Carpet.”
Skewered grilled peppers.
Skewered lamb and chicken.
Among the guests celebrating Lee Miller in Fashion and Carolin’s birthday the next day were: literary agent William Clark, The Magazine Antiques editor in chief Betsy Pochodo, curator Jared Goss, who is leaving the Metropolitan Museum after 20 years in the 20th century Decorative Arts department, MET librarian Faith Pleasanton, Sarah Borden, Harvard’s Janet Beizer, Williams College’s Darra Goldstein, designer Gene Meyer, decorator Todd Black, Carolin’s uncle Peter Fairbank, party organizer Melissa Feldman, architect Matt Murphy, sisters Sara Arnell and Faith Zuckerman and 50 other friends and family.
Party scene from the stairs.
William Clark, Charlie Scheips, Becky Conekin, and Carolin Young.
Far right: the Met’s Jared Goss and Faith Pleasanton.
Gene Meyer in yellow sweater chats with guests.
Poinsettia Fever.
The ever intellectual Young family papered the bathroom with New Yorker magazine covers.
From my outside smoking room.
People stayed closely by the table.
Carolin blows out her birthday candles on the Globe Cake.
Mama cutting the cake! ...
An exhausted cook relaxes with Amanda and Paul Docherty.
For more information on Lee Miller, Roland Penrose, and Farley Farm go to: