Dorothea Margaret Tanning
25 August 1910
Galesburg, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||31 January 2012 (aged 101)|
|Known for||Painting, sculpture, printmaking, writing|
(m. 1941, divorced)
(m. 1946; died 1976)
Dorothea Margaret Tanning (25 August 1910 – 31 January 2012) was an American painter, printmaker, sculptor, writer, and poet. Her early work was influenced by Surrealism.
Dorothea Tanning was born and raised in Galesburg, Illinois. She was the second of three daughters to Andrew Peter Tanning (born Andreas Peter Georg Thaning; 1875–1943) and Amanda Marie Hansen (1879–1967), who named her for her maternal grandmother. After graduating from Galesburg Public High School in 1926, Tanning worked in the Galesburg Public Library (1927) and attended Knox College (1928–30). After two years of college she quit to pursue an artistic career, moving first to Chicago in 1930 and then to New York in 1935, where she supported herself as a commercial artist while working on her own painting. Tanning was married briefly to the writer Homer Shannon in 1941, after an eight-year relationship.
In New York, Tanning discovered Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art's seminal 1936 exhibition, Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism. In 1941, impressed by her creativity and talent in illustrating fashion advertisements, the art director at Macy’s department store introduced her to the gallery owner Julien Levy, who immediately offered to show her work. (Tanning would also become good friends with Levy and his wife, the painter Muriel Streeter, as seen in letters they exchanged in the 1940s.) Levy gave Tanning two solo exhibitions (in 1944 and 1948), and also introduced her to the circle of émigré Surrealists whose work he was showing in his New York gallery, including the German painter Max Ernst.
Tanning first met Ernst at a party in 1942. Later he dropped by her studio to consider her work for inclusion in the 1943 Exhibition by 31 Women at the Art of This Century gallery in New York., which was owned by Peggy Guggenheim, Ernst's wife at the time. As Tanning recounts in her memoirs, he was enchanted by her iconic self-portrait Birthday (1942, Philadelphia Museum of Art). The two played chess, fell in love, and embarked on a life together that took them to Sedona in Arizona, and later to France. They lived in New York for several years before moving to Sedona, where they built a house and hosted visits from many friends crossing the country, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lee Miller, Roland Penrose, Yves Tanguy, Kay Sage, Pavel Tchelitchew, George Balanchine, and Dylan Thomas. Tanning and Ernst were married in 1946 in a double wedding with Man Ray and Juliet Browner in Hollywood and they were married for 30 years.
In 1949, Tanning and Ernst relocated to France, where they divided their time between Paris and Touraine, returning to Sedona for intervals through the early and mid 1950s. They lived in Paris and later Provence until Ernst's death in 1976 (he had suffered a stroke a year earlier), after which Tanning returned to New York. She continued to create studio art in the 1980s, then turned her attention to her writing and poetry in the 1990s and 2000s, working and publishing until the end of her life. Tanning died on 31 January 2012, at her Manhattan home at age 101.
In 1997, The Dorothea Tanning Foundation was established, with a purpose dedicated to preserving the artist’s legacy and fostering a broader public understanding of the artist's art, writing, and poetry. The Foundation works in tandem with The Destina Foundation, established in New York, 2015, to manage and distribute the art and assets of Dorothea Tanning’s Estate for philanthropic purposes.
Apart from three weeks she spent at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art in 1930, Tanning was a self-taught artist. The surreal imagery of her paintings from the 1940s 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 an artistic career that spanned six decades.
Tanning's early works—paintings such as Birthday and [ Eine kleine Nachtmusik] (1943, Tate Modern, London)—were precise figurative renderings of dream-like situations. Tanning read many Gothic and Romantic novels from her local library in her hometown of Galesburg. These fantastical stories, filled with imagery of the imaginary, heavily influenced her style and subject matter for years to come. Like other Surrealist painters, she was meticulous in her attention to details and in building up surfaces with carefully muted brushstrokes. Through the late 1940s, she continued to paint depictions of unreal scenes, some of which combined erotic subjects with enigmatic symbols and desolate space. During this period she formed enduring friendships with, among others, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Cornell, and John Cage. She also designed sets and costumes for several of George Balanchine's ballets, including The Night Shadow (the original version of his ballet La Sonnambula, which premiered in 1946 at City Center of Music and Drama in New York), and performed in two of Hans Richter's avant-garde films, Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947) and 8 x 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements (1957).
Over the next decade, Tanning's painting evolved, becoming less explicit and more suggestive. Now working in Paris and Huismes, France, she began to move away from Surrealism and develop her own style. During the mid-1950s, her work radically changed and her images became increasingly fragmented and prismatic, exemplified in works such as Insomnias (1957, Moderna Museet, Stockholm). As she explains, "Around 1955 my canvases literally splintered... I broke the mirror, you might say".
By the late 1960s, Tanning’s paintings were almost completely abstract, yet always suggestive of the female form. From 1969 to 1973, Tanning embarked on what she described as "an intense five- year adventure in soft sculpture," concentrating on a body of three-dimensional works in fabric. Five of these sculptures 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 her time in France in the 1950s to 1970s, Tanning also became an active printmaker, working in ateliers of Georges Visat and Pierre Chave and collaborating on a number of limited edition artists' books with such poets as Alain Bosquet, Rene Crevel, Lena Leclerq, and André Pieyre de Mandiargues. After her husband's death in 1976, Tanning remained in France for several years with a renewed concentration on her painting. 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, collages, and prints.
Tanning's work has been recognized in numerous one-person exhibitions, both in the United States and in Europe, including major 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 Arts Centre in London. The New York Public Library mounted a retrospective of Tanning's prints in 1992, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art mounted a small retrospective exhibition in 2000 entitled Birthday and Beyond to mark its acquisition of Tanning’s celebrated 1942 self-portrait, Birthday. In 2018, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, held a major exhibition of the artist’s work, curated by Alyce Mahon, which travelled to the Tate Modern, London in 2019.
Tanning wrote stories and poems throughout her life, with her first short story published in VVV in 1943 and original poems accompanying her etchings in the limited edition books Demain (1964) and En chair et en or (1973). However, it was after her return to New York in the 1980s that she began to focus on her writing. In 1986, she published her first memoir, entitled Birthday for the painting that had figured so prominently in her biography. It has since been translated into four other languages. In 2001, she wrote an expanded version of her memoir called Between Lives: An Artist and Her World.
With the encouragement of her friend and mentor James Merrill (who was for many years Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets), Tanning began to write her own poetry in her eighties, and her poems were published regularly in literary reviews and magazines such as The Yale Review, Poetry, The Paris Review, and The New Yorker until the end of her life. A collection of her poems, A Table of Content, and a short novel, Chasm: A Weekend, were both published in 2004. Her second collection of poems, Coming to That, was published by Graywolf Press in 2011.
In 1994, Tanning endowed the Wallace Stevens Award of the Academy of American Poets, an annual prize of $100,000 awarded to a poet in recognition of outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.
Books by Dorothea Tanning
- Abyss. New York: Standard Editions, 1977. ISBN 0918746027
- Birthday. Santa Monica: The Lapis Press, 1986. ISBN 0932499163 (memoir)
- Between Lives: An Artist and Her World. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001. ISBN 0-393-05040-8 (memoir)
- Chasm: A Weekend. New York: Overlook Press, and London: Virago Press, 2004. ISBN 1-58567-584-9 (novel)
- A Table of Content: Poems. New York: Graywolf Press, 2004. ISBN 1-55597-402-3 (collection of poems)
- Coming to That: Poems, New York: Graywolf Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-55597-601-9 (collection of poems)
- Bosquet, Alain. La Peinture de Dorothea Tanning. Paris: Jean-Jacques Pauvert, 1966.
- Plazy, Giles. Dorothea Tanning. Paris: Editions Filipacchi, 1976 and (English translation) 1979. ISBN 2850181684
- Dorothea Tanning: Numéro Spécial de XXe Siècle. Paris: Editions XXe Siècle, 1977.
- Bailly, Jean Christopher, John Russell, and Robert C. Morgan. Dorothea Tanning. New York: George Braziller, 1995. ISBN 0807614025
- McAra, Catriona. A Surrealist Stratigraphy of Dorothea Tanning’s Chasm. London: Routledge, 2017. ISBN 1472463447
- Carruthers, Victoria. Dorothea Tanning: Transformations. London: Lund Humphries, 2020. ISBN 9781848221741
- Waldberg, Patrick. Dorothea Tanning, Casino Communal, XXe Festival Belge D'Été. Brussels: André de Rache, 1967.
- Jouffroy. Alain. Dorothea Tanning: Oeuvre. Paris: Centre National D'Art Contemporain, 1974.
- Dorothea Tanning: 10 Recent Paintings and a Biography. New York: Gimpel-Weitzenhoffer Gallery, 1979.
- Dorothea Tanning on Paper, 1948-1986. New York: Kent Fine Art, 1987.
- Eleven Paintings by Dorothea Tanning. New York: Kent Fine Art, 1988.
- Dorothea Tanning: Between Lives--Works on Paper. London: Runkel-Hue-Williams Ltd., 1989.
- Waddell, Roberta, and Louisa Wood Ruby, eds., with texts by Donald Kuspit and Dorothea Tanning. Dorothea Tanning: Hail Delirium! A Catalogue Raisonné of the Artist’s Illustrated Books and Prints, 1942-1991. New York: The New York Public Library, 1992. ISBN 0871044307
- Nordgren, Sune, John Russell, Alain Jouffroy, Jean-Christophe Bailly, and Lasse Söderberg. Dorothea Tanning: Om Konst Kunde Tala (If Art Could Talk). Malmö, Sweden: Malmö Konsthall, 1993. ISBN 9177040597
- Dorothea Tanning: Insomnias, Paintings from 1954 to 1965. New York: Kent Fine Art, 2005. ISBN 1878607952
- Dorothea Tanning: Beyond the Esplanade: Paintings, Drawings and Prints from 1940 to 1965. San Francisco: Frey Norris Gallery, 2009. ISBN 9780982393246
- Greskovic, Robert, Joanna Kleinberg, and Rachel Liebowitz. Dorothea Tanning: Early Designs for the Stage. New York: The Drawing Center, 2010. ISBN 0942324560
- Dorothea Tanning: Unknown but Knowable States. San Francisco: Gallery Wendi Norris, 2013. ISBN 0615720900
- Dorothea Tanning: Web of Dreams. London: Alison Jacques Gallery, 2014. ISBN 0957226942
- Mahon, Alyce, ed., with Ann Coxon and Idoia Murga Castro. Dorothea Tanning. Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2018 ISBN 9788480265751 and London: Tate Publishing, 2018. ISBN 9781849766432
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."
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."
"If it wasn’t known that I had been a Surrealist, I don’t think it would be evident in what I’m doing now. But I’m branded as a Surrealist. Tant pis."
"Women artists. There is no such thing—or person. It’s just as much a contradiction in terms as "man artist" or "elephant artist". You may be a woman and you may be an artist; but the one is a given and the other is you."
"Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity."
- Centre Georges Pompidou / Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
- Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, New Hampshire
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art
- The Menil Collection, Houston
- Moderna Museet, Stockholm
- Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
- Museum of Modern Art, New York
- Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
- Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh
- Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
- Tate Modern, London
- Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
- "Artist's Chronology." Bailly, Jean Christopher, et al. Dorothea Tanning. New York: George Braziller, 1995
- Tanning, Dorothea (June 2016). "Beating Around the Bush". Harper's Magazine. ISSN 0017-789X. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
- Tanning, Dorothea. Between Lives: An Artist and Her World. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001.
- Butler, Cornelia H.; Schwartz, Alexandra (2010). Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art. New York: Museum of Modern Art. p. 45. ISBN 9780870707711.
- Tanning, Dorothea. Birthday. Santa Monica: The Lapis Press, 1986.
- Tanning, Between Lives, 2001.
- "Dorothea Tanning". www.dorotheatanning.org. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
- "Dorothea Tanning". The Daily Telegraph. 5 February 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
- "Artist's Chronology." Bailly, Jean Christopher, et al. Dorothea Tanning. New York: George Braziller, 1995.
- 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.
- "About The Dorothea Tanning Foundation". www.dorotheatanning.org. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- Bailly, 1995, p. 356.
- ...], [contributors Rachel Barnes (2001). The 20th-Century art book (Reprinted ed.). London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 0714835420.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
- Tate. "'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik', Dorothea Tanning, 1943". Tate. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
- Tate. "Quiet mystery – Essay". Tate. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
- Waddell, Roberta, and Ruby, Louisa Wood, eds., Dorothea Tanning: Hail Delirium! A Catalogue Raisonné of the Artist’s Illustrated Books and Prints, 1942-1991. New York: The New York Public Library, 1992.
- Waddell, et al., 1992.
- "Dorothea Tanning". museoreinasofia.es. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
- "Dorothea Tanning". tate.org.uk. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
- Tanning, Dorothea. "Blind Date". VVV, nos. 2-3 (March 1943), p. 104
- Tanning, Dorothea. Demain (Tomorrow). Editions Georges Visat et Cie., Paris, 1964.
- Tanning, Dorothea. En chair et en or (In Flesh and Gold). Éditions Georges Visat, Paris, 1973
- Poetry Foundation, Dorothea Tanning, 1910-2012, online biography, accessed 18 May 2013.
- Glassie, John. "Oldest Living Surrealist Tells All (interview)". Salon.com. 11 February 2002.
- Glassie, 2002.
- McCormick, Carlo (Fall 1990). "Dorothea Tanning". BOMB Magazine. New Art Publications (33). Retrieved 18 March 2019.
- McCormick, 1990.
- "Home". www.dorotheatanning.org. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
- "Chambre 202, Hôtel du Pavot - Centre Pompidou". www.centrepompidou.fr.
- "Collections - Hood Museum". hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu.
- "Dorothea Tanning". www.lacma.org.
- "Collection Close Up The Graphic Work of Dorothea Tanning". The Menil Collection.
- "Dorothea Tanning". www.modernamuseet.se.
- "Dorothea Tanning". www.mam.paris.fr.
- "The Collection - MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art.
- "Dorothea Tanning". www.nationalgalleries.org.
- "Philadelphia Museum of Art - Collections : Search Collections". www.philamuseum.org.
- "Dorothea Tanning". www.sfmoma.org.
- "Dorothea Tanning". www.nationalgalleries.org.
- "Artworks Search Results / American Art". 10 January 2016. Archived from the original on 10 January 2016.
- Tate. "Dorothea Tanning 1910-2012". Tate.
- "Dorothea Tanning". whitney.org.