Dorothea Tanning Biography

Dorothea Tanning




Dorothea Tanning, painter, printmaker, designer, sculptor, and writer, was born on 25 August 1910. Her parents were Swedish émigrés who settled in Galesburg, Illinois. She attended Galesburg High School and Knox College before studying very briefly at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art. Tanning moved to New York in 1936 and supported herself by working as a commercial artist while continuing to paint. The following year she viewed the surrealist exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art and that exposure greatly influenced her work, as she became a leading Surrealist painter. She was introduced to the gallery owner Julian Levy and he offered her a solo exhibition of her paintings at his gallery; the first of two was mounted in 1944. The following year she designed costumes and sets for George Balanchine's ballet, The Night Shadow.

Tanning first met Max Ernst in 1942 when he visited her studio and they married in Hollywood, California in 1946 in a double wedding ceremony with Man Ray and Juliet Browner. Tanning and Ernst moved to Sedona, Arizona where they built a house and in 1949 they moved to France, dividing their time between Paris and Touraine for five years. While in France Tanning first explored soft sculpture that she made on a Singer sewing machine. She continued working in the medium into the 1970s and an example of her sculpture is in the collection Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris.

Ernest died on 1 April 1976 and Tanning returned to the United States. In 1981 she settled in New York and kept painting but turned to writing in her 80s. She produced a novel Chasm: A Weekend, an autobiography Between Lives: An Artist and Her World (2001), and poems that appeared in The New Yorker, The Yale Review, and The Paris Review.

Tanning's work is represented in numerous public collections, including but not limited to the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Columbus Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the National Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Whitney Musuem of American Art, the Tate in London, and Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre George Pompidou in Paris.

Dorothea Tanning died at the age of 101 in New York City on 31 January 2012.


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