Grandmother of surrealism Dorothea Tanning

Roses and their ghosts.
Roses and their ghosts.

Writer, sculptor, artist, graphic artist, and the last surrealist Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) managed to live a long life, a little more than a hundred years. Why does her work deserve attention?

Without a systematic art education (Tanning has only three months of study at the University of Arts under her belt), being self-taught like Arkhip Kuindzhi, she created and honed an incredible style. Back in the early 1940s, the artist joined the surrealists, adding her vision of art to their ideas, creating dynamic images. She put a touch of Henri Bergson’s philosophy, personal intuition, experience, and a little abstractionism into her works.

Max in the blue boat.
Max in the blue boat.

Being the wife of the artist Max Ernst, the artist adopted some techniques from him. Lithography, graphics, the creation of costumes for American and European theaters, and textile sculptures were also part of her creative work. In recent years, Tanning has written books and poetry that have been praised by readers and critics.

Dorothea Tanning. Temptation of Saint Anthony.
Dorothea Tanning. Temptation of Saint Anthony.

A little about Dorothea Tanning life

Born in a small town in Illinois, the future artist had a hard time with her family’s Puritan morals. She started drawing very early, and even her first works are quite worthy.

For their own daughter, her parents organized a studio so that she could hone her skills. After graduating from school, the girl studied at a private college for a couple of years, creating illustrations for a school publication. Having celebrated her twentieth birthday, the girl hurried to leave the small town and go to Chicago in search of a better life.

Young woman. Costume design for John Cranko's ballet The Witch.
Young woman. Costume design for John Cranko’s ballet The Witch.

The first husband of the energetic and creative lady was the writer Homer Shannon. Just a year later the marriage collapsed. But his career developed and he met the gallery owner and art dealer Julien Levy. He will show Tanning the works of Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo, which will become a source of inspiration and new ideas. A successful acquaintance began to bring results. The more often the artist’s paintings were exhibited, the more people wanted to buy them. In the early 1940s, the most famous surrealists from Europe began to arrive in New York to escape the horrors of war. Dorothea became part of Andre Breton’s group.

Dorothea Tanning River fairy. Costume design for the ballet Night Shadow.
River fairy. Costume design for the ballet Night Shadow.

Rise and flourishing

Peggy Guggenheim entrusted her husband with selecting paintings for the “30 Women Artists” exhibition. Her husband Max Ernst was so impressed by Dorothea’s self-portrait “Birthday” that he dreamed of seeing the author.

Julien Levy held the artist’s first solo exhibition in his gallery. During this time, the relationship with Ernst strengthened, he filed for divorce from the gallery owner and married Tanning. The wedding was unusual because the couple’s friends Juliette Browning and Man Ray formalized their relationship on the same day, and the couples acted as each other’s witnesses.

The couple traveled extensively and purchased household items and art from the Indians, who occupied a special place in their home. “Capricorn Hill” became a special place where the couple’s friends always gathered. Here one could often meet Lee Miller, Yves Tanguy, George Balanchine and other friends of the couple. Tanning will create costumes and scenographic designs for Balanchine’s ballet Night Shadow.

Dorothea Tanning Max Ernst The Temptation of Saint Anthony.
Max Ernst The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

Tanning was Ernst’s fourth wife, but also his last, and spent time with him before his departure. In the mid-1970s, the artist became a widow. Left alone, she went to New York.

She lived in New York for another 35 years, writing books, poems, memoirs, and a novel. The talented lady managed to design albums for rock bands, created engravings, made illustrations for books, and exhibited her paintings and creations at American and European exhibitions.

Tanning lived to be one hundred and one years old and received a wonderful gift for her centenary. The Max Ernst Museum in Germany had an exhibit called “Happy Birthday to Dorothea Tanning.”

Dorothea Tanning Язык цветов. Любовный узел.
Language of flowers. Love knot.
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