Dorothea Margaret Tanning
Art on This Day
Dorothea Margaret Tanning died on this day in 2012, aged 101.
She was an American painter, printmaker, sculptor, writer, and poet. Her early work was influenced by Surrealism.
Her formal artistic education was limited, consisting of three weeks at the Chicago Academy of Art. Apart from that, Tanning was a self-taught artist. The surreal imagery of her paintings from the 1940s and her close friendships with artists and writers of the Surrealist Movement have led many to regard Tanning as a Surrealist painter, yet she developed her own individual style over the course of an artistic career that spanned six decades.
While working as a commercial artist in Manhattan, Tanning evolved an artistically conservative, literary style inspired by gothic novels as well as the seminal exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, which she saw at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1936. She went to Paris three years later in search of the surrealists, only to discover that they had already fled as the Second World War approached.
In 1941, she met the art dealer Julien Levy, and his surrealist friends in New York, refugees from Nazi occupied France. Levy later gave Tanning two one-person exhibitions (in 1944 and 1948), and also introduced her to the circle of émigré Surrealists whose work he was showing in his New York gallery, including the German painter Max Ernst. Tanning first met Ernst at a party in 1942. Later he dropped by her studio to consider her work for an exhibition of work by women artists at The Art of This Century gallery, which was owned by Peggy Guggenheim, Ernst's wife at the time. He was enchanted by her iconic self-portrait Birthday (1942, Philadelphia Museum of Art). Tanning and Ernst were married in 1946 in a double wedding with Man Ray and Juliet Browner in Hollywood.
They lived 34 years together, at first in Sedona, Arizona. Here she continued to paint her enigmatic versions of life. By 1956 they moved to France, where they stayed until Ernst's death in 1976, after which Tanning returned to New York. 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's work has been recognized in numerous solo exhibitions, both in the United States and in Europe, including major retrospectives in 1974 at the Centre National d’Art Contemporain in Paris (which became the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1977), at the Malmö Konsthall in Sweden in 1993 and the at the Camden Art Center in London. The Philadelphia Museum of Art mounted a small retrospective exhibition in 2000 entitled Birthday and Beyond to mark its acquisition of Tanning’s celebrated 1942 self-portrait, Birthday.
Her 100th birthday in 2010 was marked by a number of exhibitions during the year all around the world.
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