Dorothea Tanning, b. Galesburg, Ill., 1910 - 2012

Painting "A Little Night Music"
  Tanning learned to paint, she claimed, by visiting art museums. She attended Knox College in Galesburg, studied art in Chicago, and in 1935 moved to New York City, where she supported herself with advertising art and painted in her spare time. A commercial artist in New York, she began painting as a professional after meeting a group of French surrealist painters that included Max Ernst, whom she married in 1946. Tanning's paintings have evolved from her early surrealist evocations of perverse children's games and fantasies to experiments with different painting and, later, sculptural approaches - although her involvement with symbolic and dream material has remained constant. Her Hotel du Pavot, an installation in cloth sculpture, is in the permanent collection of the Beaubourg Museum in Paris.
Ein klein nachtmusik 1946; "A Little Night Music"



Study for "Still in the Studio", 1977, shows the preliminary stage of an oil painting Tanning completed in 1979. The title of the finished piece, Still in the Studio, describes threes aspect of the painting -- a still life made up of paints, jars, and brushes, the quiet and inactivity of her Paris studio just before she returned to New York to live, and the fact that she had not altogether left her Paris studio -- part of her is still there. In the final painting, an amorphous figure seems to emanate from the figure like smoke, or like a genie rising from a lantern. The painting that evolved from the study marked a turning point in Tanning's life and work and is featured in the exhibition at the Boston University Art Gallery.


Here is more regarding this 1999 Boston University show:

Painting, "Still in the Studio"
Dorothea Tanning pairs the painterly and the poetic
By J. Nicole Long

One of the pivotal paintings in the Boston University Art Gallery's exhibition of works by Dorothea Tanning is Still in the Studio. Its selection as part of the exhibition's title is apt: 20 years after she finished the piece, the 87-year-old Tanning is indeed still in her studio.

"Dorothea's work is underappreciated in Boston," says John Stomberg, director of the BU Art Gallery, where Dorothea Tanning: Still in the Studio will be held from March 5 through April 11. "I wanted a show that demonstrates how she continues to be a vital contributor to painting. When people know her, they usually know her for her early surrealist work."

The exhibition celebrates Tanning's latest suite of paintings, Another Language of Flowers, which depicts figures juxtaposed with rare flora that can't be ordered from a catalogue, but have emerged from Tanning's imagination.

As a patron of poets and member of the advisory board for the Academy of American Poets, Tanning asked 12 accomplished contemporary poets, including John Ashbery, Richard Wilbur, W. S. Merwin, and Associate University Professor Rosanna Warren, to write poems inspired by her work. For the exhibition, Stomberg has arranged for the poems to appear alongside the paintings in the gallery. In addition to the flowers, the exhibition includes a selection of 14 of the compositions created over the last 20 years of Tanning's career. Tanning was married to the well-known surrealist painter Max Ernst, who died in 1976. "After Max died," says Stomberg, "she moved between Paris and New York, and embarked on her most substantial and ambitious period of painting. Perhaps the productivity was due to the inward turning from the loss of a spouse, the practical issue of having a larger studio, or the freedom of being single. Whatever the case, undoubtedly her level of ambition and drive increased, as did the scale of her paintings. They became much larger, which is characteristically American, and demonstrate her renewed confidence."

In a chronology of her life, 1977 is the turning point, Tanning writes. "1977 -- Grief begets hallucination. A crazily productive year; 1978 -- On the fence. (Paris? Seillans? New York?); 1980 -- Dorothea Tanning completes her return to the United States."

Tanning has also made lithographs, collages, and soft sculpture (figures made of fabric) and designed sets and costumes for ballet and theater companies in New York, London, and Paris. Stomberg finds her genius most vividly demonstrated, however, in her handling of paint. "It is mimetic of the rhythm and cadence of poetry," he says. "In Door 84, 1984, there are rapid-fire strokes like syllables, then longer strokes like pauses." Tanning also shares with literature the device of allusion. Doors as a threshold between the conscious and unconscious or between safety and risk, birds as love or sexual love, and the presence of brilliant white light are recurring images in her work. "Tanning is concerned with the idea of inner luminosity," says Stomberg. "She plays with the fact that light travels into the paint, through it, and then returns to our eyes in such a way that the compositions seem to give off their own light."

But what is most remarkable to Stomberg is the liveliness of the subject matter. "Door 84 is a good example. She has used a real door to separate the two canvases. On the right, a young female figure, posed quite sexually on a chair with her legs apart, seems to emerge from a shadowy matronly figure. This is evidence of an artist who is very engaged and robust." 1999/02-26/arts.html



Painting, "Notes for an Apocalypse"

Notes for an Apocalypse, 1978
oil on canvas


Dorothea Tanning: Still in the Studio
opened at the Boston University Art Gallery on Friday, March 5 and continued through Sunday, April 11, 1999.

The exhibition celebrates Tanning's latest suite of paintings, Another Language of Flowers, begun when she was 87 and completed within the course of a single year. The twelve flowers depicted in these works grow only in her fertile imagination. Each is paired with a poem especially composed for the paintings by noted contemporary poets. The poems and paintings also appear in a recent book of the same name.

The exhibition also includes a selection of fourteen paintings chosen from the large body of work Tanning produced over the past 20 years. Beginning with Still in the Studio, painted in Paris in 1978, this work represents one of the most vital and active periods in her long career. "Much as words in a poem simultaneously clarify and diffuse meaning, Tanning's imagery, particularly in these late works, slips with great agility between specificity and illusion," comments John Stomberg, director of the Boston University Art Gallery.

Tanning was born in Galesburg, Illinois in 1910 and attended Knox College before moving to New York in the 1940s. There she began exhibiting at the Julien Levy Gallery, becoming known for her very personal and powerful surrealist paintings. In New York she met and married Max Ernst, moving with him to Arizona in the mid-'40s, and then to France in the mid-'50s. Two decades later, after Ernst's death, Tanning returned to New York where she embarked upon a new and ambitious series of paintings, increasing both the scale and the scope of her work.

In addition to her activities as a painter, printmaker, and sculptor, Tanning has designed sets and costumes for ballet and theater in New York, London and Paris. Her work is included in collections at the Tate Gallery, London; the Georges Pompidou Center, Paris; The Menil Collection, Houston; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


synthetic fur over cotton stuffing and wood base

60 x 25 x 21 in.


Sculpture, "Cousins"

color etching
La Mysticite Charnelle de Rene Crevel
Medium: Etching.  Image size: 10 1/4" x 7 13/16"

American painter and graphic artist, born in Galesburg, Illinois. After a brief period at Knox College she left school for Chicago, where she attended the Chicago Academy of Arts for two weeks. Convinced that one cannot learn to be a painter, she moved to New York and immersed herself in literature and art - Faulkner, Joyce, Stendhal, Picasso, Braque, Matisse. Inspired by the Museum of Modern Art's 1937 exhibition, Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism, she went to Paris and Stockholm (1939-41). She first exhibited in the year she returned to the United States, at the Julien Levy Gallery. In 1944 she had her first one-man show there. Her early canvases are blatantly Surreal, rendered in a meticulous technique and filled with inexplicable elements and strange figural actions.

recent sculpture

From September 6 to October 13, 2001, Zabriskie Gallery exhibits drawings, collages, "and a sculpture" by Dorothea Tanning.
Covering a selection of work over a wide range of years in her distinguished career, these two and three-dimensional pieces offer another perspective into tanning's highly individualized realm of imagery and iconography derived from somewhere along the margins of the conscious, often revealing the experience of the human body in an array of charged configurations - sexualized, fragmented, obscured, abstracted, and so on.

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