About Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning photo
Dorothea Tanning

Born in 1910 in Galesburg Illinois, Dorothea Tanning was a major figure in Surrealism and the second half of 20th Century art. While attending art school in Chicago in 1930, she often frequented the masterpieces at the Art Institute. In 1936, she saw the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at the New York MoMA, which greatly impacted her. Her early paintings consist of figurative dreamlike imagery, with enigmatic themes involving childhood scenarios and women. Tanning was introduced to the Surrealist group when she befriended the artists in exile in New York during WWII. Her first solo exhibition was held at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1944. In the 1940s and 1950s she also designed costumes and sets for ballets by Balanchine.

In 1946 Tanning married Max Ernst in a double ceremony with Man Ray and Juliet Browner in Beverly Hills, and she and Max moved to Sedona, Arizona in 1947. She continued to travel and show her work in Paris, and in 1957, she and Max moved back to France. In 1955, Tanning had a show of her work at a gallery in London in which her style had drastically changed from the figurative surrealist technique of her paintings in the 1940s. The new abstracted style paintings were referred to as "prismatic," and later "Insomnias"; the works consisted of fractured surfaces of entangled shapes, some with human forms, others biomorphic, enshrouded by translucent veils of paint. She created soft sculptures in the 1960s and 1970s by use of a sewing machine.

Tanning returned to live in New York after Ernst died in 1976. She continued to paint and write, publishing poetry, a novel and memoirs. She was last remaining of the historical Surrealist group and passed away in 2012 at the age of 101.