Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning in 1948. Photo by Robert Bruce Inverarity in the Smithsonian Institution collection.
|Born||August 25, 1910
|Died||January 31, 2012
Manhattan, New York
|Spouse||Max Ernst (1946–76)|
|Field||Painting, sculpture, printmaking, writing|
Dorothea Margaret Tanning (August 25, 1910 – January 31, 2012) was an American painter, printmaker, sculptor and writer. She created ballet sets and costumes for George Balanchine’s "Night Shadow," at the Metropolitan Opera House and others. She also appeared in Hans Richter's avant-garde films.
Dorothea Tanning was born and raised in Galesburg, Illinois. She attended Knox College (1928–30) but dropped out before moving to Chicago in 1934 to pursue art school. In 1935, Tanning moved to New York and supported herself with commercial illustrating jobs, including a fashion illustration job at Macy’s. In New York she discovered Dada and Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art’s seminal exhibition, Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism, in 1936. By the early 1940s, Tanning was working on her own surreal paintings while supporting herself as a commercial artist. Impressed by her creativity and talent in illustrating fashion advertisements, the art director at Macy’s department store introduced her in 1941 to the gallery owner Julien Levy, who immediately offered to show her work. Levy later gave Tanning two one-person exhibitions (in 1944 and 1948), and also introduced Tanning to the circle of émigré Surrealists whose work he was showing in his New York gallery, including the German painter Max Ernst. As she recounts in her memoirs, Birthday and Between Lives, when Ernst visited her studio in 1942, they played chess, fell in love, and embarked on a life together that soon took them to Sedona, Arizona, and later to France.
Life with Max Ernst
Dorothea Tanning married Ernst in 1946, in a double wedding with Man Ray and Juliet Browner in Hollywood, after Ernst's divorce with Peggy Guggenheim. She was married to Surrealist artist Max Ernst for 30 years before he died. She met Max Ernst at a party in 1942 and after he would drop by Dorothea’s studio for a Surrealist movement exhibition of art by women for Peggy Guggenheim’s “Art of This Century.” Soon after this encounter he moved into her apartment with her. Dorothea’s work was presented in the exhibition along with the work of Louise Nevelson and Gypsy Rose Lee. In 1949, Tanning and Ernst moved to France, where they divided their time between Paris, Touraine and later Provence. They would often host guest such as Balanchine, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Marcel Duchamp, Pavel Tchelitchew and Dylan Thomas. In 1957 Dorothea and Ernst moved to France again because Max Ernst was denied citizenship as a German during the McCarthy-era. When speaking on her relationship with Ernst in an interview, Tanning said: "I was a loner, am a loner, good Lord, it's the only way I can imagine working. And then when I hooked up with Max Ernst, he was clearly the only person I needed and, I assure you, we never, never talked art. Never." After Max Ernst death in 1979 Dorothea Tanning returned to the United States. By 1980 she had relocated her home and studio to New York and embarked on an energetic creative period in which she produced paintings, drawings, and collages. Her work has been recognized in numerous one-person exhibitions, both in the United States and in Europe, including retrospectives in 1974 at the Centre National d’Art Contemporain in Paris (which became the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1977), and in 1993 at the Malmö Konsthall in Sweden and the at the Camden Art Center in London. In 2000, the Philadelphia Museum of Art mounted a small retrospective exhibition entitled Birthday and Beyond to mark its acquisition of Tanning’s celebrated 1942 self-portrait, Birthday.
The surreal imagery of Tanning’s paintings from the 1940s and early 50s – in such paintings as Birthday (1942, Philadelphia Museum of Art) and Eine kleine Nachtmusik (1943, Tate Modern, London) - and her close friendships with artists and writers of the Surrealist Movement have led many to regard Tanning as a Surrealist painter. Yet she developed her own individual style over the course of a career that spanned six decades.In the late 1940s and early 1950s, she continued to paint precise figurative renderings of dream-like situations, working in New York City, Sedona, and Paris. She also formed enduring friendships with, among others, Marcel Duchamp, Roland Penrose, Lee Miller, Yves Tanguy, Kay Sage, and George Balanchine, for whom she designed sets and costumes for several ballets, including The Night Shadow (1945). Tanning’s beginning works were depictions of unreal scenes that combined erotic subjects with enigmatic symbols and desolate space. Over time she evolved and her painting became less explicit and more suggestive. Like other Surrealist painters, she was meticulous in her attention to details and in building up surfaces with carefully muted brushstrokes. Dorothea Tanning started for find her own niche in Surrealism during the mid-1950s when her work radically changed. As Tanning explains, "Around 1955 my canvases literally splintered . . . I broke the mirror, you might say.” In this period, Tanning’s images became increasingly fragmented and prismatic, exemplified in works such as Insomnias (1957, Moderna Museet, Stockholm). By the late 1960s, Tanning’s paintings were almost completely abstract, yet there are always suggestions of the female form. During these years, Tanning was also an active printmaker, working in ateliers of Georges Visat and Pierre Chave and collaborating on a number of artists’ books with such poets as such as André Pieyre de Mandiargues and Lena Leclerq. From 1969 to 1973, Tanning concentrated on a body of three-dimensional work, soft, fabric sculptures, five of which comprise the installation Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202 (1970–73) that is now in the permanent collection of the Musée National d'Art Moderne at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. During Dorothea’s time in France she began to create etchings for limited edition books by Alain Bosquet and Rene Crevel
Writer and Poet
Towards the end of her life, Tanning focused on her work as a writer and poet. In 1986, she published her memoir, also called Birthday, which has since been translated into four other languages, and in 2001, she wrote an expanded version of the memoir called Between Lives: An Artist and Her World. A collection of her poems, A Table of Content, and a short novel, Chasm: A Weekend, were both published in 2004. Tanning continued to write poetry until her death, and her poems appeared regularly in such literary reviews and magazines as The Yale Review, Poetry, The Paris Review, and The New Yorker. Her second collection of poems, Coming to That, was published by Graywolf Press in 2011. In 1994 Dorothea Tanning received the Academy of American Poets endowment establishing the Stevens award, giving her $100,000 each year. (Tanning considered James Merrill, for many years Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, both her friend and mentor.) In 2009, her current dealer, Douglas Walla, mounted “We’re All in It Together,” a show of works by Ms. Tanning and Surrealist compatriots she chose. In 2013 her works were in a show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art titled “In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States.”
In a 2002 interview for Salon.com in response to: "So what have you tried to communicate as an artist? What were your goals, and have you achieved them?" Tanning replies: "I’d be satisfied with having suggested that there is more than meets the eye." And in response to: "What do you think of some of the artwork being produced today?" Tanning replies: "I can’t answer that without enraging the art world. It’s enough to say that most of it comes straight out of dada, 1917. I get the impression that the idea is to shock. So many people laboring to outdo Duchamp’s urinal. It isn’t even shocking anymore, just kind of sad."
Her 100th birthday, on 25 August 2010, was marked by a number of exhibitions during the year:
- Dorothea Tanning - Early Designs for the Stage - April 23 – July 23, 2010 – The Drawing Center, New York, USA
- Zwischen dem Inneren Auge und der Anderen Seite der Tür: Dorothea Tanning Graphiken - August 25, 2010 – January 30, 2011 – Max Ernst Museum, Brühl, Germany
- Happy Birthday Dorothea Tanning - 5 July - 30 October 2010 - Maison Waldberg, Seillans, France
- Dorothea Tanning: 100 years – A Tribute - August 28 – September 22, 2010 – Galerie Bel’Art, Stockholm
- "Surréalisme, Dada et Fluxus" - Pour le 100ème anniversaire de Dorothea Tanning - 3–12 September 2010 - Espace d'Art, Rennes les Bains, France
- Beyond the Esplanade - November 19, 2009 to January 30, 2010 – Frey Norris Contemporary & Modern, San Francisco, USA
- Museum of Modern Art, New York
- Smithsonian American Art Museum
- Tate Modern
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Hood Museum of Art
Birthday. Santa Monica: The Lapis Press, 1986. (memoir)
Between Lives: An Artist and Her World. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001. (memoir)
Chasm: A Weekend. New York: Overlook Press, and London: Virago Press, 2004. (novel)
A Table of Content: Poems. New York: Graywolf Press, 2004. (collection of poems)
Coming to That: Poems, New York: Graywolf Press, 2011. (collection of poems)
- "Dorothea Tanning". The Daily Telegraph. 5 February 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
- McCormick, Carlo (fall 1990). "Dorothea Tanning". BOMB Magazine (New Art Publications) 1990 (33). Retrieved 2013-05-29.
- Poetry Foundation, Dorothea Tanning, 1910-2012, online biography, accesssed 18 May 2013.
- Glueck, Grace (3 February 2012). "Dorothea Tanning, Surrealist Painter, Dies at 101". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
- Needham, Alex (2 February 2012). "Dorothea Tanning, surrealist artist, dies aged 101". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
- Salon; John Glassie; Feb. 11, 2002
- Salon; John Glassie; Feb. 11, 2002
- Salon; John Glassie; Feb. 11, 2002
- Kent Fine Art
- Gallerist NY Obituary
- Obituary on Liveauctioneers
- Obituary in The Independent by Marcus Williamson
- Dorothea Tanning Collection and Archive
- Dorothea Tanning on artnet Monographs
- Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1943) - Tate Gallery, London, UK
- Examples of paintings 1978-1997
- "Oldest living surrealist tells all"; John Glassie for Salon.com; Feb. 11, 2002
- Ten Dreams Galleries