Artist's Chronology, in her own words...
August 25th, Galesburg, Illinois. Second daughter of Andrew and Amanda Tanning.
Education in Galesburg public schools. Graduation 1926 from high school (the building burned down in 1965). Two grades had been “skipped” thus creating a lifelong weakness in arithmetic.
Employment at The Galesburg Public Library (the building, with its 200,000 volumes, burned to the ground in 1958).
Matriculation at Knox College in Galesburg, a liberal arts school, ergo, no applied art courses. Dorothea draws and paints in spare time. Illustrations for school publications.
August. Escapes to Chicago where an ex-library pair of friends, turned city dwellers, offer her a room in their apartment. Gains employment at a downtown restaurant as a hostess (carrying menus, seating diners). Enrolls at The Chicago Academy of Art, afternoon classes. Length of stay, three weeks. Attends instead the great rooms of The Chicago Art Institute where the paintings, gazed at almost daily, give her splendid instruction in how to make art.
Operates marionettes at The Chicago World’s Fair. The booth: Buster Brown Shoes. The director of the show: Meyer Levin. The play: Buster Brown Foils Twillinger.
October. New Orleans. First exhibition, watercolors in a bookshop gallery.
May. To New York. Finds work as freelance commercial artist.
December. Discovers dada and surrealism at the monumental exhibition of Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Autumn, winter, San Francisco. Draws for The Coast, a monthly magazine. (Covers and cartoons). The magazine folds after six issues.
Return to New York. Shares apartment on East 58th Street with artist Ronnie Elliot.
July. Boards the steamship Niew Amsterdam for France, a cherished destination. But a month in deserted Paris, city gasping on the brink of war, ends with a precipitate 2 day flight to Stockholm, home of paternal relatives. This involves countries (Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany) she had not expected to visit. September. Paints family portraits of Stockholm cousins. October. Last boat (Gripsholm) back to New York.
New York. Advertising art, chiefly for Macy’s. Rents apartment at 327 E. 58th Street.
Meets Julien Levy, gallery owner who signs her on for his gallery. A marriage to Homer Shannon, writer, after an off-and-on, 8-year liaison, ends in separation after six months and divorce a year later. Meets John Cage and his wife Xenia. Pearl Harbor brings the United States into the war.
A number of European surrealists are in residence as refugees. Dorothea Tanning’s painting brings new friendships and new perspectives to her life, including Max Ernst.
Begins long friendship with Joseph Cornell who shows his films at Gypsy Rose Lee’s house on east 63rd Street. Summer in Sedona, Arizona with Max Ernst, surrealist painter. Fall: Participation in Dreams That Money Can Buy, a film by Hans Richter.
Summer at Great River, Long Island with Max Ernst, Julien and Muriel Levy. Autumn. First one person exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery.
Summer in Amagansett, Long Island. A nuclear bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, another on Nagasaki. End of war. Dorothea Tanning meets George Balanchine who asks her to design a forthcoming ballet The Night Shadow. Works on ballet sets and costumes until November when she is stricken with encephalitis. By the end of the year she is recovering enough to finish the designs.
February. Dorothea Tanning returns to Arizona. From there she learns that The Night Shadow is premiered at the Metropolitan Opera House (Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo) to much acclaim. October 24th. Marriage with Max Ernst in double ceremony with Man Ray and Juliet Browner in Beverly Hills. Meanwhile Sedona visitors, Marcel Duchamp, George Balanchine with wife Tanaquil Leclercq, Roland Penrose, Lee Miller, Caresse Crosby.
Dorothea and Max build a house in Sedona. Visits from friends who find their way to Sedona: Cartier-Bresson with John Malcolm Brinnin, Kay Sage and Yves Tanguy, Vittorio Rieti...
January. Second exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York.
July. Departure for Paris, France, which is still recovering from the war. Find a home of sorts: two maid’s rooms on the top floor of 13 quai St. Michel. Dorothea Tanning works at the lithograph atelier of Edmond Desjobert to produce her first album of lithographs, Les Sept Périls Spectraux (The Seven Spectral Perils).
Summer in the south of France. August at 10 rue du Bateau in Antibes. An afternoon with Picasso, Francoise Gilot and babies at Vallauris will be remembered, as of course he knew it would. October. Exhibition of lithographs at Galerie Les Pas Perdus, rue des Ciseaux, in Paris. Again for Balanchine a new ballet, The Witch, in collaboration with The Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company of London. Scenery and costumes by Dorothea Tanning, with choreography by John Cranko. Performed at Covent Garden, August 18th.
Back in Sedona, Arizona. April, exhibition at American Contemporary Gallery, Hollywood. Visit of Dylan Thomas.
Another ballet, Bayou, with Balanchine and music by Virgil Thomson. Teaches a class in painting and drawing at the University of Hawaii (summer session).
January. Will o the Wisp, New York City Ballet, scenery and costumes by Dorothea Tanning. March. Return to Paris. A temporary studio produces new works: Tableau Vivant, Death and the Maiden, Family Portrait.
First Dorothea Tanning exhibition in Paris at Galerie Furstenburg. Travels in Italy. Acquisition, with Max Ernst, of a farmhouse in Huismes, Indre et Loire, an area often called the garden of France. Work and pleasure in this house will occupy most of the next ten years.
An exhibition in London, Dorothea Tanning, at the Arthur Jeffress Gallery. A new period in her painting, sometimes referred to as prismatic, begins with Le Mal Oublié (The Ill Forgotten). Begins long association with Georges Visat, master etcher, and the etching process.
Once more in Sedona.
Performs in Hans Richter’s film, 8 x 8. Here it must be said that all efforts to preserve Max Ernst’s American citizenship have failed. The McCarran-Walter Act, a ghoulish piece of legislation enacted by the American congress during the McCarthy era is directed against foreign-born Americans. In October Dorothea Tanning returns, with Max Ernst, to France.
Move to 58, rue Mathurin Régnier, an address difficult of pronunciation for Dorothea in taxicabs. Divides time between Paris and Huismes studios.
Acquires a “studio” (120 square feet of space) at 27 rue St. André des Arts. There is a ten foot wall for painting a ten foot canvas, Éperdument (hard to translate ... Frantically? Desperately?), Two Words and Anges Mordus (Fanatical Angels).
In Huismes, Jean Desvilles produces a film, Le Regard Ebloui (The Astonished Gaze) on the paintings of Dorothea Tanning (Les Productions Tanit, Paris).
Judith, a play by Jean Giraudoux, directed by Jean Louis Barrault is produced at the Théâtre de France with costumes by Dorothea Tanning. Meets Karlheinz Stockhausen, composer of avant garde music.
In Paris. Move to 19 rue de Lille. In Huismes visits are too numerous for Dorothea Tanning, who nonetheless finds time to paint: an exhibition of very small canvases at the Galerie Edouard Loeb and a simultaneous show at the Galerie Mouradian-Vallotton of larger works.
An almost year-long bout with sciatica diminishes Dorothea Tanning’s studio activity. Finishes Chiens de Cythère (Dogs of Cythera) on canvas tacked to the rue de Lille dining room wall. In Huismes more visits by, among others, Georges Bataille, Jean Arp, Dominique de Menil. November assassination of President John F. Kennedy devastates all.
Move from Huismes to Seillans, a hilltop village in Provence. The house, an ex-hotel called, unbelievably, La Dolce Vita, has plenty of rooms to paint in.
Painting and duties, in Seillans, in Paris, even in New York. The paintings are prismatic. Meets Robert Penn Warren and Eleanor Clark, in residence at Magagnosc, near Grasse.
A retrospective Dorothea Tanning in Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium. Begins building a house in Seillans. This project will occupy Dorothea Tanning for three years from the drawing of plans, writing of letters, bringing wine to the workers, arranging moorish tiles, with more drawings...
In the Salon de Mai her canvas, called The Descent into the Street, a title lifted from some newspaper or other, provokes wonder. How did she know there would be a monster student uprising, now, complete with tear gas and overturned buses (not in the painting).
No discernible connection: in Paris a concert of new work by K. Stockhausen fires a new expression, cloth sculptures. Under the title Hôtel du Pavot (Poppy Hotel), a roomful of these may be seen in the permanent collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Americans walk on the moon.
Move into new house, Seillans. A hundred years earlier it would have been called a “folly.” Stone columns and marble floors and high studios (two). But it was all hers, like a painting, unsigned, an indescribable experience, a qualified enchantment.
Dorothea Tanning is in her big new studio. Sculpture, painting, planning for a future that seems endless. Works in lithography with lithographer Pierre Chave of Vence.
Paris and Seillans. Lithography with Pierre Chave. Continues cloth sculpture (until 1974). Meets Robert Ashley, avant garde composer.
In Paris the Centre National d’Art Contemporain mounts a retrospective exhibition of Dorothea Tanning’s work.
Max Ernst suffers a stroke. They are now in the Paris apartment. It is very sad.
Max Ernst dies, April 1st.
Grief begets hallucination. A crazily productive year. In January the Centre Georges Pompidou opens.
On the fence. (Paris? Seillans? New York?)
Exhibition of paintings, works on paper and a sort of biography under glass at the Gimpel-Weitzenhofer Gallery, New York. It floats, unperceived.
Dorothea Tanning completes her return to the United States.
Installs New York apartment and studio, thus bringing the travels full circle. But, studio? The apartment is remodeled to create a studio space sacrificing several rooms. A body of work will be produced here during the next ten years.
Exhibition of recent painting at the Stephen Mazoh Gallery, New York. Works on paper at Stephen Schlesinger, New York, same dates.
Short visits to Paris, to Seillans where abandoned friends hardly know they have been abandoned, but are glad to meet again.
First of several stays in Santa Monica. Dorothea Tanning works at The Litho Shop, a splendid installation of lithography presses of friend Sam Francis.
Dorothea Tanning publishes a short memoir, Birthday, at Lapis Press, San Francisco.
Exhibition at Kent Fine Art, New York, of works on paper. Several regional exhibitions follow. Lithography in Santa Monica and in New York at the studios of Maurice Sanchez.
Second exhibition at Kent Fine Art: Dorothea Tanning, Eleven Paintings. Work at Christian Guerin etching studio.
Stephen Schlesinger Gallery, New York, exhibition of collages: Emotions. And at Runkel-Hue-Williams in London, oils and works on paper: Between Lives.
An exhibition: Messages, works on paper, all about bicycles and gorillas, at Nahan Contemporary, New York. A first acquaintance with Key West to escape from New York winter.
Retrospective Print Exhibition at New York Public Library. And a new book, Volcanic Holiday, by poet James Merrill with eight color etchings by Dorothea Tanning.
Retrospective of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture at Malmö Konsthall, Malmö, Sweden. The same retrospective moves to London in September: Camden Arts Centre.
Dorothea Tanning establishes the Wallace Stevens Award for mastery in the art of poetry, awarded annually by the American Academy of Poets.
A monograph on the arist’s work is published by George Braziller, New York.
A series of twelve large-scale canvases depicting imaginary flowers painted over six months. These images inspire twelve poems by contemporary poets, and they are published together in Another Language of Flowers (George Braziller, New York).
Exhibitions of the flower paintings at the National Academy of Design and later at the Zabriskie Gallery. Exhibition of the past two decades’ work at the Boston University Art Gallery.
Small retrospective exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, celebrating its acquisition of the painting Birthday.
Publishes an expanded memoir, Between Lives, (W.W. Norton, New York). Exhibitions of works on paper at La Maison Française, New York University, and the Zabriskie Gallery.
Dorothea Tanning continues to write and publish poetry.
Publishes her second book of poetry, Coming to That: Poems (Graywolf Press, Minneapolis).
Dorothea Tanning died at her home in New York City on January 31, 2012. She was 101 years old.