Dorothea Tanning

(Galesburg, 1910 – New York, 2012)


Dorothea Tanning was born in 1910 in Gaelsburg, a provincial town in Illinois. She settled in New York in 1936 and earned a living as a commercial artist, producing magazine advertisements. It was in New York that she saw the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, at the Museum of Modern Art. It had a profound effect upon her and she began painting in a Surrealist manner.

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 first met Max Ernst at a party in 1942.

As Tanning recounts in her memoirs, he was enchanted by her iconic self-portrait Birthday. The two played chess, fell in love, and embarked on a life together that took them to Sedona in Arizona, and later to France.

The post-war era began to affect Tanning’s work significantly, especially during 1955 when her work radically shifted to reflect a more shattered and splintered take on multidimensional facets of consciousness, reality, and the mind.

By 1956 Max and Dorothea had chosen to live and work thenceforth in France. Though Paris was headquarters, they preferred the country quiet lure in Touraine and Provence. These years included, for Dorothea Tanning, an intense five- year adventure in soft sculpture.

Max Ernst died on April 1, 1976 and Dorothea faced a solitary future.

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.

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