At Large  September 23, 2023  Rebecca Schiffman

Annie Leibovitz Recreates Lee Miller's Famed Image of Hitler's Bathtub

© Lee Miller Archives 2023

Lee Miller with David E. Scherman, Lee Miller in Hitler’s bathtub, Hitler’s apartment, 1945, 16 Prinzregenttenplatz, Munich, Germany

As is the case with many female artists, Lee Miller was a forgotten figure in history after her death in 1977. But in recent years, the war photographer, fashion model, and Surrealist muse and artist has been reclaiming her space in the canon. This month, Lee, a movie all about Lee Miller, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and brought all the amazing work she did back to the forefront where it always belonged.

The film, which stars Kate Winslet as Miller, focuses on Miller’s war photography efforts and is adapted from the 1985 book by Antony Penrose, The Lives of Lee Miller. It begins at the start of World War II, when Miller moved to London to seek out work as a photographer for British VogueFrustrated with the content they sought out, Miller decided to go to war to document what was going on for the female readers of Vogue.

Wikimedia Commons

Female war correspondent Lee Miller who covered the U.S. Army in the European Theater during World War II (U.S. Army Center of Military History)

As a war photographer, Miller was constantly pushing limits – getting to the site faster, before anyone else, and getting there alone. As a female photographer working for Vogue, Miller was transforming a fashion magazine into a current events war journal, opening up women in America to the brutal sights of the war with fresh eyes.

She set out in Europe, capturing the siege of Saint-Malo and the liberation of Paris. Then, accompanied by a fellow photographer, David E. Scherman, she was one of the first photographers to enter the camps at Buchenwald and Dachau. On the day of the liberation of the camps on April 30, 1945, and the same day Hitler commited suicide in his Berlin bunker, Miller and Scherman snuck into Hitler’s abandoned Munich home. It was there that Scherman took the photograph, Lee Miller in Hitler’s Bathtub

The photograph, which Annie Leibovitz reinterpreted with Kate Winslet in Miller's place, for a feature in Vogue this month, depicts exactly what its title suggests: Miller sitting in the bathtub in Hitler’s Munich flat. The photograph is completely choreographed, yet was described by Scherman as a leisurely, overdue bath. In the photo, Miller sits completely nude in the tub, though only her head and shoulders can be seen. She looks over her shoulder, her gaze hitting a Venus statuette, which is placed on the table. On the left is a framed portrait of the Fuhrer himself. And on the top of the tiled floor is a recent addition to the bathroom: a pair of boots, dirty with the ashes from the concentration camps, that now soils the once fluffy mat. 

The idea of taking a bath in Hitler’s private tub is inherently strange and perverse. In taking this photo with the knowledge that this bath’s previous owner was one of the most wicked and powerful men in history, Miller and Scherman were able to turn one photograph into a multi-layered statement about modern life, war, and independence. And, like any other Surrealist work, the meaning is continually displaced: Miller is no longer defined solely by her femininity, there is an expanded vision of propaganda, and there is an irony in the symbolic meaning of cleanliness in relation to Hitler. 

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