The oldest living Surrealist Dorothea Tanning passed away January 31 2012 at the great age of 101. Tanning was born in Galesburg Illinois USA 1910, attending Knox College before living in Chicago for several years. In 1936 whilst attending the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art New York,Tanning discovered the wonderful world of Surrealism and Dada. To support herself, Tanning worked as a commercial artist, but she soon began to work on her own surreal paintings in the early 1940s.
She was introduced to Julien Levy, a gallery owner who was to show her work and give her two one person exhibitions in 1944 and 1948. He introduced her to a circle of surrealists whose work he was showing in his New York gallery. The young artist fell immediately in love with German surrealist Max Ernst and married him in 1946. Tanning’s surreal paintings have a dreamlike quality and a very individual style.
She lived in France with Ernst after the war for 28 years. Her work features in MOMA. The George Pompidou Centre. The Tate Gallery london and many more collections around the world. She created costumes for Balanchine between the 1940s and 50s and sculptures in the 70s
At the age of 91 the artist was asked how she felt about carrying the surrealist banner;-
I guess I’ll be called a surrealist forever, like a tattoo: “D. Loves S.” I still believe in the surrealist effort to plumb our deepest subconscious to find out about ourselves. But please don’t say I’m carrying the surrealist banner. The movement ended in the ’50s and my own work had moved on so far by the ’60s that being a called a surrealist today makes me feel like a fossil!
Tanning moved back to New York in 1979 after Ernst’s death. Among others, she found a friend in Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill. It was Merrill
“Who more than anyone at that point of my life, made me realize that living was still wonderful even though I felt that my loss, Max, had left nothing but ashes,” she says. “So if I took up brushes again, and the pen, to work for 20 more solitary years — and am still at it — it was Jimmy who made me want to, and so proved himself right.”
Tanning published her first book in 1986, The book is a collection of reminiscences and is called “Birthday,” after her most famous painting.
Her career spanned 6 decades, she was a printmaker, sculptor - she wrote and published poems and a novel. She counselled young artists with these words;-
“Keep your eye on your inner world and keep away from ads, idiots and movie stars.”
I was lucky enough to see her work in 2001 at a surrealist exhibition at the Tate Modern, called ‘Desire Unbound’ 2001 . Her dreamlike scenarios work ensure that she is still known as a surrealist.
One of my posts about Women Surrealists and their work can be found here
Night Music image from here
Voltage, Palaestra, Ernst and Tanning, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik portrait by Lee Millar, Maternity from the wonderful dorotheatanning.org where lots of her work can be found
Birthday image from here
More about Dorothea Tanning can be found here
Interview with the artist can be found here