02 works, PORTRAIT OF A LADY, Dorothea Tanning’s Birthday, with Footnotes. #139

Dorothea Tanning
Birthday, c. 1942

Oil on canvas
40 1/4 x 25 1/2 in.
Philadelphia Museum of Art

“I thought you had to go to art school. It would be a kind of initiation like being baptised — in paint. […] What a scam! They would take your money for your ‘tuition’, and then you sat and drew in a stuffy little room. […] I threw down my charcoal and left, and that was the end of my art-school training.” Dorothea Tanning


Dorothea Margaret Tanning (August 25, 1910 – January 31, 2012), daughter of Swedish émigré parents, was a prominent Surrealist, but her artistic career was overshadowed by that of her famous husband, German painter and sculptor Max Ernst, to whom she was married for 30 years (1946–76); her own dreamlike imagery, however, was considered more Gothic in nature than surreal. Tanning studied only briefly at the Chicago Academy of Art before moving in 1936 to New York City, where she established a studio but made her living as a fashion illustrator. At a party in 1942, she met Ernst, and the two moved in together about a week after Ernst viewed her work, Tanning’s self-portrait, Birthday (1942), in which she appears clothed but bare breasted and shoeless, in the exhibit “31 Women”. In 1944 Tanning was given her first solo show. After Tanning and Ernst married in 1946, the couple moved to Sedona, Ariz., where they hosted a bohemian crowd of visitors. Her paintings embodied not only the visible world but also the intangible that animated the life force. Tanning and Ernst moved to France during the communist witch hunts conducted by U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and there she began work in the late 1960s on soft fabric sculptures stuffed with wool in larval or limblike shapes, many of which evoked an erotic and often disturbing quality. After the death of Ernst in 1976, Tanning returned to New York City and launched a career as a novelist. More on Dorothea Margaret Tanning

Author: zaidangallery

I search Art History for Beautiful works that may, or may not, have a secondary or unexpected story to tell. I then write short summaries that grow from my research. Art work is so much more when its secrets are exposed

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